Cablegate: A Mariner's View of the Turkish Straits

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


Sensitive but Unclassified - not for internet distribution.

1. (U) In meetings with Consulate and Embassy officers last
week, British Petroleum maritime consultant Vice Admiral Sir
Christopher Morgan provided a mariner's view of the issues
the Turkish straits pose for transiting oil tankers. Morgan,
who accompanied a BP Suezmax tanker through the straits at
the height of last winter's storms, spoke highly of the newly
installed Vessel Traffic System (VTS) and sees few risks in
the actual transit of either the Dardanelles or the
Bosphorus, provided that there is no oncoming traffic on the
latter. Rather, he argues that the key safety issue centers
on the anchorages at the entrances to the Dardanelles,
particularly at the northern end where loaded tankers can
back up. At one point during his transit, nearly 60 loaded
tankers were jostling for position in a narrow anchorage.
During the fierce storms that buffeted the area at the end of
January, several of these ships dragged anchor and nearly
collided with their neighbors. In Morgan's view, this
anchorage policy "is more risky than the combined risk of
each and every individual tanker transit through the Turkish
Straits." End Summary.

2. (U) Vice Admiral Morgan, accompanied by Mike Bilbo from
BP's Istanbul office, met with us on September 16 to discuss
his experience transiting the straits at the height of last
winter's storms. He accompanied a BP chartered Suezmax
tanker, the MT Max Jacob, which loaded at the Georgian port
of Supsa on January 10 and then proceeded west across the
Black Sea towards the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, entering the
northern strait on January 15. Morgan, who recently retired
after five years as Director General of Britain's Chamber of
Shipping, prepared a report on his experience in March that
assessed the risks the Turkish straits pose for transiting
ships and the operations of Turkey's Vessel Traffic
Management system and other maritime safety measures. Aside
from one unfortunate incident, and a number of technical
critiques, including the need for pilots to join the ship
before they are actually committed to entering the straits
and the relative inadequacy of the tugs used by Turkish
coastal authorities, he was largely complimentary of the
professionalism and knowledge of the Turkish maritime
authorities with whom he worked. In particular, he had high
praise for the new VTS, saying it provided ship captains with
useful, accurate information.

3. (SBU) Anchorage Risks: Morgan's major safety concerns
centered on the risks posed by the "cramming" of large
numbers of tankers into inadequate anchorages as backups
built up during this winter's storms. By chance, he found
himself at the Gelibolu anchorage at the northern end of the
Dardanelles at the very height of this winter's delays, when
average waits reached nearly 30 days and 66 ships were
waiting to transit, both northbound and southbound. The MT
Max Jacob reached Gelibolu on January 17, after an uneventful
run through the Bosphorus, a transit that Morgan describes as
posing "few problems for a well run Suezmax," provided that
(as Turkish regulations require) there is no oncoming
traffic. The voyage swiftly became more arduous, however, as
at Gelibolu the ship joined a queue of vessels containing
some 26 million barrels of crude oil that were waiting to
transit the Dardanelles.

4. (SBU) Morgan characterized the most stressful period of
the voyage as the time when the ship was maneuvering among
these anchored vessels to find its own mooring area. The
ship was subsequently stuck for ten days in the anchorage by
fierce winter storms with winds of over 50 knots that ravaged
the area, and led to closure of the straits. During that
period, several ships dragged anchor and came within little
more than a ship's length of their neighbors before being
able to get underway. Morgan noted that in meetings with
government officials in Ankara he will argue that a new
designated anchorage south of the separation zone is urgently
needed at Gelibolu to ease this congestion. In addition,
given the dangers the anchorages pose, he argued that Turkey
should reduce the vessel buildup by more efficiently using
daylight hours in good weather and by easing its "excessive"
requirement of an hour and a half separation between tankers
during their transit. An hour, he suggested, would be
sufficient, though he noted that this is an argument that the
industry does not expect to win. More likely to win official
sanction, he added, is a recommendation that when traffic
builds up the straits operate in one direction for an entire
day, rather than half a day. The latter procedure costs
several hours from the shortened winter day, as ships wait
for vessels moving in the opposite direction to clear the

5. (SBU) Comment: Given his relationship with the industry,
Morgan's recommendation that transit separation spacing be
reduced so that more vessels can make the passage in a day is
not surprising. However, his point about the risks posed by
the anchorages seems difficult to refute, and is dramatically
illustrated by radar printouts from January which depict
dozens of ships, many nearly on top of each other. Morgan
indicated he will push the anchorage issue in particular in
his meetings in Ankara. Given Turkish concerns about
straits' safety and congestion, he does not expect his
argument regarding separation times to win much traction.
Suggestions by the press and some observers that the GOT may
be excessively regulating traffic to purposefully delay
shipping to further make the point on congestion show that
this could induce a dangerous outcome. End Comment.


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