Russia Attacks Turkey’s Bosphorus Oil Restrictions

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russia on Wednesday attacked Turkey for restricting shipping through the crowded Black Sea Bosphorus straits–crucial to Russian oil exports–saying it should not take unilateral decisions.

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov criticized Turkish limits on the transit of most oil tankers through the Bosphorus–which have been in place since October–on a visit to Russia’s main Black Sea port of Novorossiisk.

"We understand Turkish officials’ preoccupation–but we must solve these problems together. Decisions to change cargo transit rules should never be taken unilaterally,” Interfax agency quoted Kasyanov as saying.

Kasyanov said he had ordered the foreign ministry to hold talks with Turkey about the issue of the Bosphorus straits–which link the Black Sea to the world’s oceans.

Turkey placed new limits on the transit of most oil tankers through the Bosphorus straits last October–effectively slowing transport for the more than 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd) shipped from Russia’s Black Sea ports to the Mediterranean and world markets.

The new rule ended night-time passage for ships of over 200 meters and ordered those vessels and others carrying dangerous cargoes to request transit 48 hours in advance.

The limit had previously been 250 meters with no 48-hour advance request necessary.

The new regulations affect tankers carrying over 50,000 tons–which includes almost all crude oil vessels and the majority of oil product shipmen’s. It raised costs for refiners and has hit profits for Russian and Caspian oil exporters.

The new rules also ban passage in the opposite direction when vessels of 250-300 meters are passing through.

Russian–Ukrainian and Georgian Black Sea oil terminals export at least 1.7 million bpd of crude–with another 1.9 million bpd of oil products also leaving the region.

More than 55,000 vessels a year pass through the narrow winding Bosphorus–which cuts through Istanbul–a city of more than 10 million people.

Increased shipping traffic through the straits from the former Soviet republics around the Black Sea has raised concerns about the threat of accidents and pollution.

Turkey governs the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits under the 1936 Montreux treaty–which allows commercial ships to pass freely through the waterways in peacetime.

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