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Bosphorus open after failed Turkish coup, but security fears linger

Bosphorus open after failed Turkish coup, but security fears linger
Commercial shipping remains on high alert despite the re-opening of the Bosphorus strait following Saturday’s failed coup attempt by a faction of the Turkish military.

The 17-mile waterway was closed to tanker traffic for several hours following a dramatic and bloody 13.5 hours which left 294 people killed and more than 1,440 wounded.

Turkish maritime authorities reportedly reopened the strait, which divides Istanbul into European and Asian sides, to all vessels later on Saturday.

 However, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty to deal with the military plotters, tensions remain high.

Shipping is understandably cautious with the Bosphorus one of the world’s key chokepoints for the transit of oil. More than 3% of global supply – mainly from Russia and the Caspian Sea – passes through the natural waterway which connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

 Ship tracking surveillance showed 10 tankers anchored off the coast of Istanbul on the southern side of the strait, presumably awaiting instructions on whether to sail through the narrow passage.

It follows a tumultuous 24 hours which saw tanks guarding key bridges in Istanbul, armed forces storm the capital Ankara and military jets buzzing overhead. The military faction declared a curfew and martial law but supporters loyal to Erdogan heeded the Turkish president’s call to pour onto the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir in defiance despite explosions near Istanbul's central Taksim Square and the parliament building in Ankara.

Shipping agent GAC reported Saturday that only vessels with non-hazardous cargoes, such as bulkers, ro-ro, reefers and the like, were being allowed to transit the strait which is only half a mile wide at its narrowest point. “Masters of vessels in the Turkish Straits and Marmara Sea are advised to stay in touch with VTS (Vessel Traffic Services) and act in line with their instructions,” GAC said amid heightened security fears.

Some 48,000 vessels transit the straits each year; vast quantities of grains from Russia and Kazakhstan are shipped to world markets via the waterway as well as oil. 

Commercial shipping has the right of free passage in peacetime, although Turkey, itself a key commodity user including being one of top five gas consumers in Europe and a large grains importer, can impose regulations for safety and environmental purposes.

GAC Turkey has since advised that the situation is “largely under control” but reported that transportation “is being affected negatively, especially in Istanbul and Ankara”.

“As a result of flight delays and cancellations at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, GAC Turkey urges ship owners or operators to check with [us] before sending crew to Turkey. Further, the clearance of the spare parts will be delayed until the operations at the airport is back to normal.”

Among many countries condemning the failed coup was the UAE.

“The UAE is keen to see a secure and stable Turkey. It welcomes the return of Turkey to its legitimate and constitutional track, which is an expression of the will of the Turkish people,” UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said.