The strait story

Tourists and Istanbulites alike love its ever-changing colours, and the quaint neighbourhoods on both shores. The Bosphorus Strait has been the very lifeblood of all civilisations to have dropped anchor for 3,000 years

In the Northwest of Turkey flows the Bosphorus Strait, a remarkable body of water where Europe and Asia face one another on opposite Istanbul banks. It links the Black Sea at one end, and the Marmara Sea – and the Aegean beyond – at the other. Numerous civilisations have exploited this geostrategic advantage. Modern Istanbul, a Unesco world heritage city, has in turn been the seat of power of two vast empires. In AD 30 Roman Emperor Constantine the Great established the new capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople. And then in 1453 it became the seat of the long-lived Ottoman court.

Shifting the goods

The vast multi-storey cruise liners that arrive each spring are a familiar sight in central Istanbul’s ports, dwarfing the buildings along the shore. Yet while tourism remains one of Turkey’s economic mainstays, the maritime logistics sector, too, generates vast revenues for the treasury. In 2014 close to 90 percent of Turkey’s international trade involved maritime transportation. And with over 8,000km of coastline, the country has established a total of 172 ports, with many being larger commercial hubs. Of the total, 21 are state-run, while 23 are municipally controlled and 128 operate in the private sector.

Calling the fleet

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) calculates that global seaborne shipments rose by 3.4 percent in 2014, with additional volume exceeding 300 million tonnes to 9.84 billion tonnes. Meanwhile, the global fleet rose by 3.5 percent taking the total commercial fleet to 89,464 vessels, with a total tonnage of 1.75 billion dwt. And in Turkey, data for 2012 indicates that the lion’s share of cargo handled was liquid bulk cargo at over 132 million tonnes, followed by bulk cargo of just over 107 million tonnes. And by 2014, total cargo handled in Turkish ports, including domestic commerce, had reached 383 million tonnes. This marked a 100 percent rise over the previous decade. For the year, total containers handled were at 8.3 million TEU, a staggering 235 percent rise over the previous 10 years. Istanbul’s Ambarli port, a major and highly sophisticated logistical facility, alone accounts for around 40 percent of containers. Every two years the World Bank publishes its Logistic Performance Index report, which evaluates the effectiveness of maritime trade and in the 2014 Report, which featured 160 countries, Germany came first and Turkey was in 30th place.

One of the key commercial routes

At 32km in length and as narrow as 700m, the Bosphorus Strait, a vital component of Turkey’s welloiled maritime sector, remains one of the world’s key commercial routes. In 2013, 2.9 million barrels of oil were shipped daily from Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. And in 2014, 45,529 ships navigated the strait averaging at 3,794 ships per day. Each day domestic vessels alone number around 2,500, while tourists aside, around 2.5 million Istanbul residents cross by ferry to and from work