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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
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
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
film
Life and Style
tech
News
people
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
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

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'