Turkey Announces Route for “Kanal Istanbul”

The Bosphorus is one of the world’s narrowest shipping channels, complicated by strong changing currents and several sharp turns and headlands. This creates an obstructed view of the waterway, which has made navigation highly risky. Since its founding in 1936, maritime traffic in the Bosphorus has increased more than ten-fold annually from some 4,400 ships to an average of 48,000 vessels in recent years. The number of maritime incidents has also increased dramatically. In addition to being an important waterway in northwestern Turkey, the Bosphorus forms the continental boundary between Europe and Asia. It separates Asian Turkey from European Turkey and connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and, by extension via the Dardanelles, the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.

Long before he was in office, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to create a bypass around the Bosphorus. The proposed channel, which is being called Kanal Istanbul, will run parallel to the Bosphorus Strait. In mid-January 2018, the government of Turkey released information finalizing a route for this second shipping channel between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. According to some projections, the canal construction will take from 5 to 8 years to complete, require 100 million cubic meters of dredging with the estimated costs being  $17 billion. The channel will measure around 45 kilometers (28 miles) in length and 150 meters (490 feet) in width, and will run between Istanbul’s Arnavutkoy-Avcilar districts. Excavation work on the canal began in early January.

The new Kanal Istanbul would increase capacity for shipping to and from the Black Sea. The route selected would run between Küçükçekmec in the south, near Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, to the Sazlıdere Dam and then north to Durusu. The total length will be about 25 nautical miles. It represents the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in Turkey. It is designed to accommodate 160 vessel transits per day, which is approximately the same as the current volume of traffic passing through the Bosporus.

The existing Bosphorus channel is protected by the Montreux treaty of 1936, which does not allow service fees to be charged for transits. The new canal would allow Turkey to charge a service fee, meaning the Turkish government could raise revenues from users. In addition, Turkey will look for private partners to raise the funds necessary for construction. A bidding model that includes a build-operate-transfer model, and other public-private partnership alternatives are being considered.

The final route that was recently announced was the result of studying many factors including geological studies, earthquake risks and groundwater effects. Despite the many studies, the project still remains controversial. Excavated material may be used to create artificial islands in the Sea of Marmara.