Turkish coast threatened by oil spill as fuel tanker breaks up and sinks

SNAPPED IN half by gale force winds off Istanbul in the early hours of yesterday morning, a Russian tanker is threatening major environmental damage in one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

The 43,000-tonne Volganest 248 ran aground just meters from the coast of the up-market city suburb of Kucukcekmece at around 6am yesterday. Its cargo of fuel oil began spilling into the waters at the entrance to the Bosporus, the narrow channel that runs through the heart of Istanbul.

With helicopters flying overhead and coastguard vessels tied alongside, the ship made a forlorn picture when daylight broke. The bow section had been torn off by winds of 35 to 40 knots (70mph) as the ageing vessel battled to head away from Istanbul into the Sea of Marmara.

"The front section broke off and sank," said coastguard chief Orhan Karaahmetoglu. "Which means its two forward oil tanks went down too. One of these has broken up already and is emptying itself straight into the sea."

Along the coast, still battered by high waves and gusting winds, a black slick has washed ashore. At the Florya tea gardens, a shoreline favourite in summer for residents, the terraces are blackened with oil, while huge clots of fuel continue to wash up with the grey breakers.

When the vessel broke in two, five of the 17 crew were trapped on the slowly submerging forward half. Coastguards battled with the elements to get them off, and all were rescued. Coastal safety and salvage workers were last night attempting to pump out the other tanks in order to prevent further spills.

"For years we've been saying that the Bosporus is not a safe place for these boats," said Gul Keydar, a local resident. "This is not a pipeline. Now our shore is ruined."

The narrow Bosporus has recently been the battleground for environmentalists determined to prevent tankers from carrying potentially harmful oil and chemicals through it. They argue that a collision could be fatal for many of Istanbul's 10 million inhabitants, who are crowded around the channel's shores.

Two tankers and one container ship have already run aground in the Bosporus this month, and plans to transport newly discovered Central Asian oil through the channel to Western markets have been strongly resisted.

Yet the straits are international waters, giving Turkey little legal clout in trying to impose safety standards on ships using them. In one transit of the Bosporus, vessels must make at least 12 course changes and battle strong currents and whirlpools. As a result, old and underpowered vessels, often from the former Soviet countries, sometimes have difficulty in maintaining steerage, leading to loss of control, collisions and groundings.

"There are vortexes and cross currents in the straits," explained Professor Najat Ince of Istanbul Technical University Foundation, who spent years developing a projected safety system for the channels. "These vary with the seasons and the winds and are very dangerous. A ship hits these and the captain slows down to try to handle them, but then loses control."

Yet taking a pilot on board is still optional, as is using the local ship traffic control. In winter, the city is battered by a strong south- westerly wind, the Lodos, which, in the early hours of Wednesday, pushed the Volganest 248 off course on to the shallows off Kucukcekmece, and sank 15 smaller boats at anchor in a marina on the Asian side of Istanbul.

"I think this time they were also sailing with their tanks half full,"Mr Karaahmetoglu said. "So in the strong winds, they get rocked from side to side and the fuel oil also moved around, unbalancing the ship."

Some 500 tonnes of oil have already flooded out, and the danger is that in the strong winds the ship may break up further, releasing more of its cargo. The local currents will then take this back up towards the city itself.

"We have to move fast," said Mr Karaahmetoglu, on the shoreline at Kucukcekmece, the floundered tanker rocking slightly in the charging water some 50 meters out. "We can't afford for this to get any worse."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine