The Bosphorus Strait, which is among the world's most strategically located and economically significant straits, narrowly linking the Black Sea to the Aegean, has been closed to transit traffic by Turkish authorities after a 225-meter-long cargo ship crashed into an Istanbul waterfront mansion.
The Malta-flagged bulk carrier slammed into the mansion on the the Anatolian (Asian) side of the Bosporus in the Anadolu Hisarı area late Saturday afternoon local time after its rudder got stuck and drifted into the waterside house.
Dramatic photographs and video capturing the aftermath of the accident were published by Turkey's Daily Sabah showing the slanted vessel grounded on the bank and emergency boats circling. There were no reports of injuries or fatalities reported in breaking coverage by local media.
The cargo ship was reportedly headed to Ukraine from Egypt before bringing usually congested shipping lanes to a halt as it crashed just under the Fatih Sultan Bridge off Istanbul's Asian side.
A similar accident in a nearby location on the Bosphorus destroyed a historic 19th-century Istanbul mansion in 2015. Near miss incidents are not uncommon due to the difficult variables that navigating Turkey's straits entail.
The Daily Sabah summarizes the waterway's heavy traffic and possibility for disaster as follows:
Turkey's straits are among the most at-risk waterways in the world, according to experts. Over 50,000 vessels, including tankers carrying highly flammable oil, pass through the Bosporus, an S-shaped channel with sharp turns and changing currents that pose challenges for vessels and sailors every year.
The deadliest accident was when a Romanian tanker and a Greek freighter collided and exploded in November 1979, killing 42 crew members aboard the Romanian tanker. The last major accident in the strait was in 2003 when a Georgian-flagged vessel ran aground, resulting in a spill of 480 tons of oil.
Last January Turkey announced plans for the long term construction of an incredibly ambitious canal project, called Kanal Istanbul, which would effectively turn the European half of Istanbul into an island and greatly reduce shipping traffic strain on the extremely busy Bosphorus. In 2016 for example, the Bosphorus registered 42,000 vessels passing through, compared to 16,800 transiting the Suez Canal in the same year.
The Kanal Istanbul has been described by Turkey's Transport Ministry as among the most expensive construction projects in recent Turkish history, and is set to begin this year through public funding and private partnerships.
Initial plans produced by Turkey's Environment Ministry put the canal at 25 meters (82 feet) deep and varying at different points along the route between 250 and 1,000 meters (825-3,300 feet) wide, funneling ship traffic from the Durusu region on Istanbul's Black Sea coast to Kucukcekmece Lake on the Sea of Marmara.
The Bosphorus Strait is the only maritime outlet to the oceans for the East European and Caucuses countries of Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia, and for Russia's Black Sea ports.