Erdogan takes first step in criticized Istanbul Canal construction

21:37, 26 June 2021
Erdogan takes first step in criticized Istanbul Canal construction Photo: Xinhua

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken the first step in the construction of Canal Istanbul, linking the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, the Haber Turk broadcaster reported.

The project that supposes to ease marine traffic in the Bosphorus Strait, estimated to cost $15 billion, is expected to be completed within six years. The length of the canal is 45 kilometers, a total of six bridges are planned to be built.

"We look at Canal Istanbul as a project to save Istanbul's future," Erdogan said, speaking at the bridge ground-breaking ceremony in Sazlidere, west of Istanbul. "We are opening a new chapter in Turkey's development history."

On Saturday construction workers poured cement into the foundations of nearly a mile-long bridge.

According to Turkish officials, the number of ships crossing the Bosphorus is expected to reach 78,000 by 2050. Already 43,000 ships pass through the Bosphorus Strait every year, whereas the safe ship crossing capacity is 25,000.

"Our bridge is part of the 45-kilometer Basaksehir-Bahcesehir-Hadımkoy road, but it will also provide the passage of the Sazlıdere section of Canal Istanbul. Our country will get a bigger share of global trade. Canal Istanbul will connect the world with Turkey. It will ensure the safety and the prosperity of our citizens around the Bosphorus," Turkish Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Adil Karaismailoglu said.

The idea of a canal linking the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea was suggested by Erdogan in 2011.

Turkish opposition along with Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and the environment scientists warn it will serve little purpose and will cause widespread ecological damage destroying the Marmara basin, increasing the dangers of earthquakes, and saddle Turkey's economy with further debt.

“The canal would create enormous and irreversible adverse impacts on the ecosystem and society not only in Istanbul but the entire Marmara region. There is both freshwater loss of up to 13% of the water currently available for human use, and the even greater danger of soil and groundwater salinization and contamination as the canal would carry salty water from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara,” a water management expert at the Istanbul Policy Center Akgun Ilhan told the Guardian.

“The canal will also make Istanbul more vulnerable to earthquakes and extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. A project on such a large scale that connects two different seas can never be considered safe.”

"I can’t sleep at night when I think about this cement project. I get nightmares about it," Ekrem Imamoglu said at a press conference earlier this week. "If the project is completed, the first thing that comes to mind is the right of future generations to live in a healthy environment."

The width of the Canal was determined as a minimum of 275 meters and the depth is going to reach 21 meters. Turkish government hopes that oil tankers up to 275 meters long and cargo ships up to 351 meters in length will be able to pass through.

The Russian Embassy in Ankara said that the Turkish economic project will not repeal the requirements of the 1936 Montreux Convention.