The expansion in bilateral oil trade between Russia and India will increase the already intense oil tanker traffic on the Bosphorus, making the Canal Istanbul project even more necessary, according to the director of Bilkent University Energy Policy Research Center Friday.
The $13 billion agreement between Russian oil company Rosneft and India's Essar for the shipment of Russian oil, which was signed in August 2017, will lead to more oil tankers passing through the Bosphorus, Prof. Hakan Berument told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview on the center's latest research, Indian Growth and Turkish Straits.
Last year, Rosneft bought a significant share of Essar Oil’s Vadinar Refinery, the second largest oil refinery in India. The deal was Rosneft's first foray into Asia’s refining sector and the biggest foreign acquisition ever in India.
As of March 2018, all tankers carrying Russian crude oil to India have loaded exclusively from Russia's Novorossiysk port on the Black Sea and the Turkish Straits have been used for these shipments. However, further Russian shipments are expected to use Canal Istanbul in the future, Berument said.
In January 2018, Turkey unveiled the Canal Istanbul project's route, an artificial sea-level waterway parallel to the Bosphorus to connect the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.
"We made projections on the increase in oil flow through the Turkish Straits up to the year 2028 for different scenarios and all of them indicate the requirement for an alternative route on the Bosphorus," Berument explained.
The Black Sea's only connection to the world's oceans is through Turkey's Straits and the Sea of Marmara. The Bosphorus Strait is one of the chokepoints of global oil trade in which 38 percent of Russia's maritime crude oil exports pass through after tankers are loaded from the Novorossiysk port.
"Canal Istanbul, once operational, will be strategically situated to ease the traffic," Berument argued.
Under the Montreux Convention, merchant vessels enjoy the freedom of passage through the Turkish Straits, while the transit of warships is subject to restrictions, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The volume of traffic has increased greatly - from 4,500 in 1934 to 49,304 in 1998. In 2017, 87,593 ships passed through the straits, out of which 13,732 comprised carriers of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), as well as oil tankers, making the Turkish Straits one of the world's busiest maritime chokepoints.
An estimated 3 million barrels a day of crude oil and 20 million tons per year of petroleum products transit through the Turkish Straits. This represents around 3 percent of the world's annual oil trade.
- Ongoing accidents and Canal Istanbul Project
Maritime incidents on the Straits pose a considerable risk to public safety and to the environment with 141 since 2006 so far. And the risk of a major accident remains very high in the context of the rapidly increasing transit traffic.
In 1979, MT Independenta, a large Romanian crude oil carrier, collided with a Greek freighter at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus and exploded. Almost all of the tanker's crewmembers died. The wreck of the Independenta burned for weeks, causing heavy air and sea pollution in the Istanbul area and the Marmara Sea.
The proposed canal is 45-50 kilometers long, 150 meters wide and 25 meters deep. The tentative completion date was announced as 2023 to coincide with the Republic of Turkey's 100th anniversary.
By Muhsin Baris Tiryakioglu