A new rule implemented by the Turkish authorities on 28 July 2017 addresses the maximum stopover period for a vessel before its “in transit” status will be broken while passing the Turkish (Istanbul and Dardanelles) Straits. The communique issued by the Turkish Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communication increases the maximum transit time of vessels in Turkish waters from 48 hours to 168 hours, i.e. 7 days.
The rule before amendment allowed only 48 hours for vessels that required repairs, maintenance, crew change etc. within the Turkish Straits to complete these procedures in order to be considered “in transit”. Vessels that exceeded the 48-hours stopover threshold were obliged to drop anchor, obtain a free pratique and were subject to the free pratique tariff instead of the much cheaper transit tariff.
The amendment of the rule will have different consequences for different interests.
From the PoV of Owners, Charterers, Suppliers and Service Providers
- The extension of the stopover period, which is expected to be a welcome development for members of the shipping industry, will address many problems caused by the former regulation. Vessels will have more time to complete important operations such as maintenance, repair and change of crew. In this regard, the regulation will also benefit ship agents, bunker suppliers and companies providing all kinds of maritime services and necessities.
From the PoV of Claimants
- There is an ongoing debate regarding the arrest of vessels passing the Turkish Straits during the stopover period. Some authorities opine that vessels cannot be arrested during transit on account of the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits (1936) whereas others argue that arrest should be possible regardless of transit status. Conflicting judgments of the Court of Appeal had not rendered much assistance to the resolution of the issue. Now that the stopover period is extended significantly, the argument is bound to heat up.
The new rule will not only reduce the fees ship owners face but also remove many problems that charterers, agents, suppliers and service providers faced due to time limitations. On the other hand, it may pave the way to the settlement of an overdue legal issue even though claimants seeking to arrest ships in the Straits may become frustrated along the way. The communique will no doubt benefit both local and foreign players in the industry and lead to expansion of the market by an expected increase in the number of vessels in Turkish waters at any given time.