Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Ground-breaking ceremony for the Istanbul Canal

Written by Eric Apim on Monday, June 28th 2021 à 18:55 | Read 700 times

The Istanbul Canal will be 45 km (27 miles) long (map: DR)
The Istanbul Canal will be 45 km (27 miles) long (map: DR)
TURKEY. On Saturday 26 June 2021, Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially launched the construction of the Istanbul Canal (Kanal Istanbul), a new seaway that will enable ships to link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Located to the west of the country's economic capital, this artificial strait, 45 km (27 miles) long, 275 metres wide and 21 metres deep, will run parallel to the Bosphorus Strait.
Boats will thus be able to benefit from an alternative to the passage through the Bosphorus Strait, which is very congested. There are 41,000 ships (including 10,000 oil tankers) passing through it each year and forecasts indicate that there will be 78,000 by 2050. In addition to easing maritime traffic, the Istanbul Canal will allow "a reduction in the waiting time for ships to enter and leave the port and the resolution of problems caused by navigation difficulties in the Bosphorus", insists the Turkish president.
"Today, we are turning a new page in the history of Turkey's development ... This project will give a new lease of life to our foreign trade," the Turkish president stressed on this occasion. The symbolic start of the construction work consisted of laying the first stone, in Sazlidere, of one of the six bridges that will span the future canal.
Critics of the project denounce its astronomical cost, estimated at €12.5 billion, but also its ecological impact. On the first point, Recep Tayyip Erdogan replies that "the contributions of the Istanbul Canal to Turkey are too important to be compared to the cost of this project. He says that the project will quickly become self-financing thanks to the revenues from the ships that will use it, but also the revenues from the port that will be built.
According to Ekrem Imamoglu, an opponent of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and mayor of Istanbul since 2019, the land bordering the future canal has been ceded to supporters of the Turkish president. "It is a construction and real estate project ... The main reason that motivates Erdogan is money, money and more money", he summarises.

Criticism from admirals and environmentalists

Recep Tayyip Erdogan launches the Istanbul Canal project by laying the foundation stone of a bridge (Photo: Turkish Presidency)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan launches the Istanbul Canal project by laying the foundation stone of a bridge (Photo: Turkish Presidency)
Several of the president's opponents denounced this, pointing to the Montreux Convention. Initialled in July 1936 in Switzerland by France, Australia, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, the United Kingdom (and Cyprus since its independence), the USSR (with Russia and Ukraine as successors) and Turkey, this text governs navigation in the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits as well as the Black Sea. In particular, it imposes full freedom of movement for commercial vessels. It also stipulates that non-riparian countries must give advance notice of the passage of their ships, which can only stay for a limited time.
On this issue, ten retired Turkish admirals were taken into custody at the beginning of April 2021 for having signed an open letter against the future canal, indicating that it did indeed threaten the free movement provided for by the Convention. The latter, along with a hundred other admirals, considered it "worrying" to attack an agreement that "best protects Turkish interests".
For Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, "this project does not violate Montreux in any way.”

The Russians do not see the purpose of this project in a positive light either. The canal will allow NATO ships - of which Turkey is a member - to be projected more quickly into the Black Sea.
On the second point, environmentalists are alarmed by the risks created by the future waterway.  The Turkish president replies: "With the Istanbul Canal project, we aim primarily to ensure the safety of the lives and property of our citizens in Istanbul and the Bosphorus area. We need this project to secure the historical and cultural fabric of the Bosphorus as well." He insists that "all stages of the project have been designed in accordance with science."
The Istanbul Canal was first mentioned in April 2011 by then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was part of a series of a hundred or so pharaonic projects (including the new airport, the metro under the Bosphorus and the third bridge over the same strait). Its route (see illustration above) had been unveiled in January 2018 by Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan. The ribbon cutting was initially planned for 2023, to celebrate the centenary of the Turkish Republic. Then, at the beginning of 2020, the start of work was announced within the year for completion in 2026. Today, the Turkish president promises to "finish the construction of the canal in six years."

The first project for a canal linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara dates back to the 16th century with Suleiman the Magnificent.
Since then, over the centuries, the idea has regularly resurfaced with no less than seven attempts. In 1863 studies were commissioned (without follow-up) and then the canal was announced on 17 January 1994 in Bülent Ecevit’s campaign promise. The future prime minister (1999 to 2002) became a deputy for the province of Istanbul two years later, but the promise was forgotten.


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