Turkey eases objection to passage of Chinese-owned aircraft carrier
Turkey has softened its objection to the passage of a decommissioned aircraft carrier owned by China through its congested waterways and may allow the voyage on a series of strict conditions, the Anatolia news agency reported Friday, August 24.
The issue, which has been dragging on for months, was expected to be taken up during an official visit to China beginning Saturday by Turkish State Minister Sukru Sina Gurel. "I will inform Chinese officials of (Turkish) Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's favorable view regarding the ship's passage," Gurel was quoted as saying by the agency. He did not give any further details.
The unarmed ship, Varyag, has been anchored in the Black Sea for months awaiting a go-ahead from Turkey to pass through the Bosphorous and Dardanelles straits, heavily congested shipping lanes leading to the open seas.
A Macau-based company bought the 306-meter (1,000 foot) vessel from Ukraine and was planning to convert the aircraft carrier into a floating hotel and casino.
Turkey has previously objected to the Varyag's passage through the straits on safety concerns, noting that the vessel lacked an engine and a rudder and would have to be towed through the busy waterways. But Turkey's general staff said in a recent report that the Varyag may be allowed to sail through the straits under strict measures to ensure a trouble free voyage, Anatolia said.
Under the proposed measures, the Varyag would be towed by five tugboats with help from a guiding captain to navigate the waterways, which would be closed to other traffic for the duration of the passage.
Visibility must be at least five nautical miles and there should be no any inflammable or explosive material on board the vessel. According to Turkish maritime officials, there are 13 dangerous turns and treacherous currents in the Bosphorus Strait alone, which cuts through Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city with a population of some 12 million.
Turkey has long been concerned about heavy traffic through the narrow, 31-kilometer (19-mile) Bosphorus and the 70-kilometer (43-mile) Dardanelles. In January, Turkey began work on a major system to monitor vessel traffic through the straits using 13 radar towers to be erected on the shores of the waterways.
The towers are to feed data to two control centers, which will help ships safely navigate the straits and provide help promptly in case of accidents. The system is to become operational before the end of the year. ― (AFP, Ankara)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)