Environmental action force for Black Sea

The six countries bordering the Black Sea have established a joint naval force to protect the environment and humanitarian operations, at a time when oil tanker traffic is increasing dramatically.

Russian, Turkish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Georgian ministers and naval commanders have signed an agreement establishing the new force, named Blackseafor, in Istanbul. The agreement is unusual in that it will see Turkish NATO forces working with ex-Soviet bloc naval personnel and because it sees the armed forces working for environmental protection.

Apart from search and rescue missions, a major duty of the new force is to enforce environmental protection in an area which is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, especially for oil transportation. In fact, the launch of the fleet comes at the same time as a huge upsurge in oil tanker traffic as a major new pipeline, travelling almost 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from the oilfields of landlocked western Kazakhstan to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, has just been opened. Much of predicted 1.5 million barrels of oil per day is set to be transported through the Black Sea, which means that the new fleet’s capacity to enforce environmental law and assist in clear-ups may prove essential to the region.

However, Turkey and Russia disagree profoundly on the amount of oil tanker traffic that should be generated in the region, with the former saying that traffic through the Bosphorus Strait linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, has already reached its upper limit, with more ships than ever before. Turkey is deeply concerned about the possibility of an oil spill in the tourist gem and largest city, Istanbul, which straddles both sides of the Strait. However, Russia insists it has the right to send its tankers, which will be transporting the Kazakh oil, through the Bosphorus whenever it wants.

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