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The Bosporus

Turkey is concerned that rising maritime traffic, especially of large oil tankers, presents a safety and environmental risk to this unique waterway, which bisects Istanbul and its population of 12 million. Oil transport has increased dramatically in recent years: from 60 million tons in 1997 to 134 million tons in 2003, and companies are using larger tankers. Turkish officials emphasize that traffic in the Straits is safe and they continue to work on safety improvements consistent with Turkey's obligations under the Montreux Convention.

However, by 2004 they warned that they were nearing the maximum safe capacity. For example, tankers over 200 meters face special difficulty managing the sharp curves and currents in the narrowest sections of the Straits, forcing them to routinely deviate outside the normal shipping channel. Turkey restricts these tankers to daytime transit and only in one direction at a time.

In 2003, Turkey took delivery of the Vehicle Traffic System (VTS), constructed by Lockheed Martin, which allows Turkish authorities to better monitor traffic and respond more quickly to accidents in the Straits. However, the VTS will not necessarily mean an increase in traffic, and may actually reduce traffic, because the authorities will be better able to enforce vehicle spacing and other safety regulations.

The congestion, when coupled with bad weather, resulted in expensive delays for oil companies and supply shortages for consuming country refineries. At one point in early 2004, 42 ships were waiting to enter the straits, with an average delay of 20 days, costing ship operators hundreds of thousands of dollars. These delays have led to a renewed interest in pipeline projects to bypass the Straits, which Turkey supports. The U.S. and Turkey have worked closely together to promote the development and construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (to be completed at the end of 2004), which brought oil from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, bypassing the straits.

The Bosporus may be said to begin at Seraglio point on the European shore side, and the town of Skutari on the Asiatic shore, and to terminate at the entrance of the Black sea at the two capes, on which are built the lighthouses of Roumili and Anatoli. Its length from the sea of Marmara to the Black sea, including its numerous windings, is about 17 miles, the breadth varies from 4 cables to 11 miles, and the general direction is SSW and NNE. Like the Dardanelles, it resembles a river with abrupt and angular windings, the projecting points of which break the impetuosity of its stream, quiet its surface, and afiord shelter under their lee; the eastern part of the Bosporus, however, from Buyuk-dere to the Black sea is straight, and its general direction is NE. The depths in the stream is from 20 to 66 fathoms, over a mud bottom.

Both its shores are studded with magnificent palaces or painted houses, lightly built, and in a quaint and picturesque architecture. The European side is covered with them in its entire length, but on the Asiatic shore they are separated by rather longer intervals of space, and are everywhere backed by hills, whose rich vegetation admirably fills up this noble spectacle.

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