Recent events have induced the authorities to make significant changes to the rules governing the passage of vessels within the Turkish Straits and the Marmara Sea. The last straw in coming to this decision seems to have been the incident involving the bulk carrier m/v “VITASPIRIT” during her transit of the Istanbul Strait in April 2018 where the vessel contacted the shore resulting in serious damage caused to a mansion with significant historical value.
The general rules that govern the passage through the Turkish Straits are contained in the Turkish Straits Sea Traffic Scheme Regulation which is supplemented by a Practice Directive setting out practical and technical details. The General Directorate of the Regulation of Seas and Inland Waters of the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure have updated the Practice Direction with the apparent aim to have more control in preventing and attending to incidents within the Turkish Straits. Among others, the amendments are summarized below.
- You may recall that the maximum stopover period for a vessel to maintain her “in transit” status while passing the Turkish Straits (transit time) was extended back in July 2017 which we had reported in our earlier news alert. Now, the Practice Direction was updated to reflect the increase of the transit time from 48 hours to 168 hours in order to bring the Practice Direction in line with the new transit time rule.
- It was stipulated in the previous wording of the Practice Direction that vessels that have lost their technical competence and/or become unseaworthy before entry into the Turkish Straits must undergo a survey by the Harbour Master officials or an approved class society and can continue their voyage upon the clearance of the Harbour Master. This requirement has been extended in the new wording to cover also vessels that start their voyage from a port within the Marmara Sea.
- Vessels that carry a military vessel as cargo will now be considered military vessels in their transit of the Turkish Straits.
- The previous wording of the Practice Direction required that 500 GT and larger vessels have valid P&I cover during their transit which has been amended in the new wording as “300 GT and larger”. As a result, the Practice Direction has been brought in line with the rule that 300 GT or larger, all Turkish flagged vessels and all vessels (regardless of their flags) that call at Turkish ports must have P&I insurance in place with limits sufficient to cover LLMC limits.
- Rules that regulate the mandatory daytime passage of some vessels have been extended.
- Any vessel that suffers a malfunction in the Marmara Sea within the traffic separation scheme must inform the Harbour Master immediately. Such vessels will be obligated to complete their passage of the Turkish Straits with a pilot on board.
- The Harbour Master will make sure that salvage services are rendered to any vessel that suffers a collision, grounding, fire or contact with the shore within the Turkish Straits and anchorage areas. This additional wording in the Practice Direction makes it clear that when a vessel experiences contact with another vessel or the shore or there is fire on board the vessel, obtaining salvage services from the General Directorate of Coastal Safety – having monopoly rights to be engaged in salvage within the Turkish Straits and the Marmara Sea – will not be optional and the vessel will not be allowed to resolve her problem through her own means.
- The wording added to the Practice Direction makes it clear that local shipping agents are in principle not allowed physical contact with vessels transiting the Istanbul Strait. The only exception would be by permission of the VTS within the designated areas and timeframe, always closest to the starboard side of their lane within the traffic separation scheme.
- Vessels, including local traffic, are not allowed to overtake another vessel while passing under bridges over the Straits and will not come within 100 metres of the legs of the bridges.
The amendments have entered into force as of 1 September 2018. We hope that the shipping community will benefit from the new rules introduced with the amendments made to the Practice Direction. You may access an English translation of the Practice Direction on the Maritime Association of Shipowners and Agents website by clicking here.