At around mid-day on Friday, international shipping between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea ground to a halt when Liberian-flagged container ship Songa Iridium collided with the embankment on the European side of the Bosphorous Strait in the centre of Istanbul.
According to Black Sea shipping news website Maritime Bulletin, the collision was precipitated by an engine control problem which caused the crew to lose control of the ship as it traversed the Bosphorus southwards from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Both the port and starboard anchors were dropped in a fruitless effort to slow the vessel before it slowly but determinedly plowed into the retaining wall at around 12:00 PM on Friday.
The Bosphorus and its southern neighbour the Dardennelles compose the only passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, giving them economic and political significance for thousands of years. Though the straits are well within Turkish waters, the 1936 Montreaux Convention provides for free passage to civilian vessels and the navies of the countries that surround the Black Sea. These days, more than 48,000 vessels traverse the passage each year. The difficulty of navigating the narrow and curvy straits means that even a minor incident like this one can close the straits entirely.
Though this collision did not cause any casualties or injuries, the Daily Sabah reports that the accident did cause the port authorities in Istanbul to close the Bosphorus to traffic as they cleared the stricken ship
The closure did not last long, though, and the ship was moved out of the way and into the Sea of Marmara by 3:00 PM, less than three hours after the vessel ran aground. Still, any extra delay adds up when waiting time for transit can be as long as 14 hours for normal ships and more than double that for ships carrying hazardous cargo.
Some in Turkey have suggested a canal be constructed to bypass the Bosphorus and relieve the traffic load on the congested waterway, but others, including the mayor of Istanbul, have positioned themselves in opposition to the project, which they believe will have catastrophic ecological and economic implications for the city.