Four oil tankers to pass through Turkey's Bosphorus Strait as logjam eases

Millions of barrels of crude stuck waiting as Ankara demands time to check evidence of insurance

Vessels wait for inspection in the southern anchorage of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey.  Reuters
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Turkey will allow four tankers bearing some 475,000 tonnes of crude oil to cross the Bosphorus Strait on Monday, starting to ease a logjam that left millions of barrels of oil waiting to enter one of the world's most important transit routes and pitted Ankara against several countries.

Ankara confirmed the intended passage of the tankers in a notice on Sunday from the national maritime authority.

It initially confirmed one Russian tanker had provided the required insurance documents and would transit south through the strait on Monday.

Millions of barrels of oil, mostly Kazakh crude, were stuck waiting to enter the vital shipping route as Turkey insisted on evidence of full insurance to pass through, a measure introduced just before a western price cap on Russian oil.

Analysts warned the logjam could spark a “major geopolitical crisis” as western states and Kazakhstan urged Ankara to ease its measures and allow the tankers to pass through. The pressure was rebuffed by Turkey, which insisted it needed time to complete the “routine checks” and check transiting ships were not violating new sanctions on Russian oil.

Brent crude was priced at $75.50 at opening on Monday after steadily dropping last week. West Texas Intermediate was priced at $70.48 after dropping 11 per cent last week.

Five tankers were removed from the Dardanelles Strait further south after failing to meet the insurance requirements, the maritime authority added on Sunday.

While 27 tankers were waiting to cross the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits on Saturday, this was reduced to 19 on Sunday.

The number fell to 13 on Monday.

Tankers able to haul a total of 15 million barrels of crude have navigated either of the straits since Saturday, according to tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

Oil analysts warned the logjam was pitting Turkey against the EU and Astana, which had a large number of vessels affected by the measure.

Ankara may have introduced the stringent checks in order to avoid seeming to discriminate against its ally Moscow, analyst Vandana Hari told The National on Friday.

The EU, G7 and Australia introduced a $60 oil price cap on Russian crude earlier this month, which also prevents insurers from covering tankers transporting Russian oil priced above the new cap.

Turkish authorities insist that vessels crossing its straits, two of the world's most strategic maritime trade routes, must provide proof of complete protection and indemnity insurance for the duration of the journey through the strait and when calling at Turkish ports.

Following the western price cap, Ankara needs to determine which vessels are carrying price-capped oil — and therefore are insured — and which are not.

The EU said the price cap was not the reason for the delays and assured Turkey it could continue its checks as before.

The US also hit out at Turkey for the logjam and said it saw "no reason" for Kazakh oil carriers to be held up on their journeys.

Turkey has maintained good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, mediating the landmark grain deal which has allowed food exports to leave blockaded Black Sea ports.

Updated: December 12, 2022, 1:17 PM