Official representatives of Russia’s and Turkey’s Ministries of Defense keep saying about the continued threat of drifting Ukrainian mines which had been torn from their anchors.
Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that due to the continued threat of drifting mines, Turkey has raised the readiness level of de-mining units and other related services, as well as the alert and mobilization status. At the same time, the minister emphasized that it was impossible to determine the number of drifting mines in the Black Sea. “We have great capabilities to resolve this problem. We quickly mobilized them, raised the alert status of diving teams and drones. We are continuously monitoring the situation. As soon as we receive any alert notification, our units quickly take the necessary measures,” Akar said.
To date, three mines have been deactivated in the Bosporus shelf area. Some suspect that other drifting mines can be found in that district, but it is impossible to confirm this, Akar stressed. “What we are going to do about that is to remain vigilant,” he said. The Turkish minister explained that after the mines are detected, they are delivered to a safe zone and neutralized without harm to anybody.
On March 29, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson of the UN’s Secretary-General said that reports about drifting mines in the Black Sea raise concerns in the organization. He also said that the presence of mines can badly affect international shipping. In particular, he noted that the Black Sea region is important for the export of food from Russia and Ukraine.
For security reasons, all types of fishing in the Black Sea, in the area between Bulgaria and Kefken have been suspended since March 26. This restriction applies to the night period especially. The Turkish Navy have warned shippers to be more careful when entering the Black Sea and to watch for drifting mines. The warning was distributed after on March 19, the Federal Security Service of Russia reported that the Ukrainian Naval Forces had installed minefields at the approaches to the ports of Odessa, Ochakov, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny. Because of rope breakages caused by wind and sea currents, mines can move freely in the western part of the Black Sea. There have been reports that, in Odessa, several hundreds of anchor mines installed by the Kiev authorities along the coastal line were blown off by the storm and went “free sailing” to the Black Sea (and further on, possibly, through the Turkish Straits to the Mediterranean Sea), posing a threat for any marine vessel. According to the clarification in the official document published by Life.ru, there were some 420 anchor-mines and anchor-river-mines, which were installed by the Ukrainian Navy.
Turkey is conducting an investigation in connection with drifting mines detected in the Black Sea. One of the explanation for the presence of the mines in the sea along the coast of Turkey is a form of pressure by NATO. In particular, as Turkey suggested, it is not a coincidence that drifting mines appeared in the Black Sea. Mr. Akar believes that this is a way they use to gain admission to the Black Sea waters for NATO warships. “We have a suspicion about the deliberate presence of mines. Perhaps they were a part of some plan aimed at putting us under pressure to have Turkey admit the NATO minesweepers through the straits into the Black Sea. But we are committed to the Montreux Convention and will not admit their warships into the Black Sea,” the minister said.
Previously, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey would close the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits for any warships in connection with Russia’s special operation aimed at denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine. As you know, in accordance with the Montreux Convention, the only exceptions are ships going to home ports.
The Montreux Convention was adopted in 1936. It allows merchant ships to freely pass these straits both in peacetime and in wartime, however, the duration of the period when warships belonging to non-Black Sea states can stay in the Black Sea waters is limited to three weeks. In emergency situations, Ankara may prohibit or restrict the passage of warships through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. “Turkey will adhere to the Montreux Convention and will not allow the warships of any country to enter the Black Sea,” Hulusi Akar said.
The Turkish Defense Minister admitted that some parties deliberately put pressure on Ankara and are “planting” mines along Turkey’s shores to make the country agree to let the NATO ships into the Black Sea. This explanation about the presence of mines found along Turkey’s coast line was given by the Turkish Defense Minister during a conversation with the leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party.
According to Gercek Gundem, retired Rear Admiral of the Turkish Navy Jihad Aichi recently said that drifting mines that appeared in the Bosporus Strait could lead to a major disaster. “Necessary security measures have been taken. However, they cannot guarantee a 100% security. If any of those mines gets into the Bosporus Strait, it will kill a lot of people,” Jihad Aichi stressed. According to him, there are no doubts that it was Ukraine who allowed the drifting mines to appear in the Black Sea. “Why should Russia put obstacles for its own trade by installing mines in the Black Sea? Russia uses the Black Sea waters for transportation of crude oil, energy carriers, grain, and other exported and imported goods,” he said.
He also mentioned that 2.5% of crude oil is supplied to the outside world through the Turkish straits, and therefore the current situation is critical for many countries.
Due to increased warfare risks in the Black Sea, the cost of oil transportation has gone up dramatically. The price for insurance for oil tankers is higher today than the freight costs. Thus, the cost of chartering a Suezmax class tanker with a capacity of 1 million barrels for transporting oil from the Black Sea to Italy costs $3.5 million, while insurance costs have increased to $5 million. According to Bloomberg, due to warfare risks, which also include drifting Ukrainian mines, insurers demand to pay 10% of the cost of the vessel’s hull. As several market participants told Bloomberg, this is called a “warfare risks premium,” which before Russia started its special operation in Ukraine had been almost zero. This situation has particularly affected companies exporting oil from Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan through Black Sea ports to Novorossiysk or Supsa. This fact is an evidence that Russia is apparently not involved in the incident, and is not interested in the presence of drifting mines in the Black Sea. Unlike Ukraine.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.