Aircraft carrier must be cut up to pass through busy Bosporus

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The following was published in the August 02 2001 of Lloyds List

Aircraft carrier must be cut up to pass through busy Bosporus

Turkey has demanded that the hull of a Ukrainian aircraft carrier bought by a Chinese firm to be turned into a floating casino be split into parts or given an engine before it can pass through the Bosporus, Reuters reports.

The fate of the 1,000 ft-long former aircraft carrier Varyag is a source of friction between China and Turkey as Ankara has three times since last year refused it a permit to transit the strait.

The ship, which Turkey says is no more than a floating platform, is still languishing in the Black Sea. Turkish maritime affairs minister Ramazan Mirzaoglu reiterated official worries that its passage posed a major danger to the people of Istanbul living along the shore.

Since the strait is not going to get bigger this platform should get smaller, Mr Mirzaoglu said. He said Turkey could help put the Varyag back together in its own dockyards. Another option could be to place a rudder and an engine on the platform to make it a proper ship that can move itself, the minister said, adding that in convoy the ship's length would reach over 1,800 ft when towed by tugs.

Navigating the strait requires at least 15 changes of course. At its narrowest the Bosporus is 672 m wide at a point where there is also a 45 bend.

The Varyag was conceived in the 1980s as a grand challenge to US sea power, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union it remained half-finished in Ukrainian hands until it was sold off to a Chinese firm for conversion to a floating pleasure palace.

Mr Mirzaoglu said Turkish and Chinese experts held talks in May and June, at Beijing's insistence, about a Chinese study that indicated the passage would be safe. That simulation did not work because they made calculations on the basis of a fixed current of three miles per hour whereas the speed can actually change between five to eight miles per hour there,? he said. Turkey once again refused the Chinese request at the end of those talks. But Mr Mirzaoglu said Ankara would not avoid further talks with China if Beijing wanted to continue them.

The Turkish proposal to allow the Varyag's passage on condition of its division or installation of new equipment had been conveyed to the Turkish foreign ministry for passing on to Beijing, he said. There had so far been no response from China.

Turkey governs the waterway under the 1936 Montreux Agreement that obliges it to allow free passage of ships in peacetime. But Turkey has expressed growing concern about safety, with around 50,000 vessels passing through every year and accidents a regular occurrence. This platform could block the strait if it capsizes at one of the narrowest points. Or it could hit somewhere, anywhere on the coast or on the waterways which will cause a disaster.

In that case, Mr Mirzaoglu said not only Turkey's but all other Black Sea countries' trade would suffer since such an incident would lead to the closure of the strait for a long time. In the worst case scenario: "If it sinks it would take at least six months to clear it up."

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On a similar topic, readers of this list may be interested in visiting "Minsk World" which is described at http://hp3000.empireclassic.com/minsk/minsk.html

-- Rich Marsh (marshr@airmail.net), August 03, 2001


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