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Turkey's Bosphorus reopens to traffic after Ukraine cargo ship refloated

Tugboats had been deployed to shift vessel, as route between Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara was briefly blocked off
The Palau-flagged bulk carrier MKK1, carrying grain under UN’s Black Sea grain initiative, is seen drifted aground in the Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey, 16 January 2023 (Reuters)

Maritime traffic at Istanbul's Bosphorus waterway is once again moving after being suspended earlier on Monday following a cargo ship being stranded.

The incident with the Palau-flagged vessel called the MKK1, travelling from Turkey to Ukraine, has not resulted in damage, according to Turkish authorities. However, it had briefly blocked all traffic in the highly important waterway.

According to maritime vessel traffic websites, the 142-metre vessel is now moving across the straits towards the Sea of Marmara. 

The freighter experienced a rudder failure at around 7.30am local time.

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In a tweet, the Turkish coastguard authority said that it had promptly dispatched five tugboats to the scene.

The Bosphorus Strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and is one of the world's busiest maritime passages.

By some estimates, around 48,000 ships pass through the strait each year, which can be challenging to navigate partly due to the narrow width of some parts of the waterway. 

A similar incident involving a Ukrainian ship occurred in September last year after it collided with another vessel and briefly ran aground.

Speaking to Middle East Eye at the time, Yoruk Isik, a long-time naval Bosphorus observer said: "The Bosphorus is one of the most professionally managed in all steps, including pre-planning and foreseeing what can happen - it is extremely well managed."

Rare incidents

The last major accident on the Bosphorus was in 2019 when a Liberian-flagged cargo ship ran off course and collided with Istanbul's coast, forcing Turkish authorities to close the waterway.

The Bosphorus is one of the world's most important choke points for maritime oil transports, with more than three percent of global supply - mainly from Russia and the Caspian Sea - passing through the 27km waterway.

In the past Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a new canal to be built that would ease traffic on the Bosphorus shipping route. 

He first mentioned the idea in 2011, dubbing it his "crazy project". But a currency crisis in 2018 prompted Turkey to freeze investments in large projects.

Kanal Istanbul has returned to the president's agenda periodically. Yet, ground has yet to be broken on the idea.

The 400-metre-wide canal planned to the west of Istanbul would connect the Black Sea in the north to the Sea of Marmara, which eventually runs into the Mediterranean.

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