The Strait of Istanbul (Bosphorus) : The seaway separating the continents with its dense shipping traffic

Necmettin Akten

Istanbul University, Institute of Marine Sciences and Management, 34116 Vefa, Istanbul, TURKEY


The Strait of Istanbul connecting the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, is one of the major trade artery in the World with an average of 132 transits a day, second to the Straits of Malacca. The Montreux Convention of 1936 relating to the regime of the Turkish Straits establishes freedom of passage and navigation with certain formalities for merchant vessels of any flag and with any kind of cargo, by day and by night, and the Strait is kept open for shipping traffic. Hence the Bosphorus serves as an international seaway of economic and strategic importance. Due to angular windings transit shopping either way, requires at least 12 major course alterations as much as 80°, with severely limited vision around these bends. Geographical and oceanographic conditions as well as navigational constraints are the main parametres making the navigation through difficult and risky. Additionally, since passage through the Strait, entails a run by about 17 nautical miles all the way and takes almost two hours, utmost vigilance is necessary in order to maintain safe standards of navigation and to conduct vessels. ‘ Turkey introduced the traffic separation schemes, in full compliance with the Rule 10 of the ColRegs 72, in the Turkish Straits Region, the Strait of Istanbul inclusive, to enhance safety of navigation. The new schemes have been in use since 01 July 1994. One of the contemporary safety measures that Turkish Republic has taken recently is to install the use of the VTMIS, Vessel Traffic Management and Information System. The System based on 7 radar stations is fully operational as from 01 July 2003. A The Strait faces dense shipping transits. Mean figure to cover 1994-2002 period indicates that 132 vessels a day navigate the Bosphorus. Taking 1936 figure as the basis, shipping traffic has increased by almost ten times. The Strait faced 461 marine casualties of different types – i.e 209 collisions, 138 groundings, 77 strandings, 28 fires / explosions and 9 others (such as rudder blockade, vessel’s list, or engine breakdown) – in 1953-2002 period. Safe navigation in the Bosphorus is a matter of vital importance to Turkey as well as to all nations using the Strait. Therefore, the dangers posed by ever increasing shipping traffic to the surrounding inhabited areas and to the environment have compelled Turkey to take immediate action and to reinforce existing regulations of maritime traffic in the Strait.

Keywords: The Strait of Istanbul, Montreux Convention, seaway, Vessel Traffic System (VTS), casualty, shipping traffic, current, Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS ), grounding, stranding

pdf-dl icon