Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania Announce Joint Effort to Clear Black Sea Mines

Black Sea mines
The three countries reported they will work together to detect and remove mines (Romanian Navy file photo)

Published Jan 11, 2024 2:11 PM by The Maritime Executive


A new initiative is being launched to clear mines in the Black Sea. Turkey announced the agreement on Thursday at a ceremony alongside the defense ministers of Romania and Bulgaria saying the effort “will contribute to regional security and stability in the Black Sea.”

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Turkey’s Defense Minister Yasar Güler highlighted that the Black Sea coastal countries were affected in different ways by the war in Ukraine. Saying “we are making multifaceted efforts to establish regional and global security, peace and stability,” he said Turkey would continue its “intensive diplomatic initiatives to end conflicts, provide humanitarian aid, establish a grain corridor and establish permanent peace.”

Since the beginning of the war in February 2022, Turkey says it has been working to develop measures to eliminate the threat posed by mines drifting in the Black Sea. Each of the countries has been working independently to manage mines seen floating in their regions or explosions on the coastline. 

Several ships have also hit the mines causing various levels of damage. Late in December, the Greek bulker Vyssos hit a mine as it was sailing from the anchorage off Romania into the Danube. The captain and a sailor were both injured with one person being taken to a hospital while the ship was disabled and towed to port. Most of the instances have resulted in minor damage while in several cases Bulgaria and each reported detonating mines found drifting in the Black Sea.

The reports are that the defense ministers of the three countries began exploring the possibility of cooperating on the sidelines of a NATO meeting last fall and continued their discussions in Turkey.

“We jointly decided to sign a protocol between the three countries in order to fight more effectively against the mine danger in the Black Sea by improving our existing close cooperation and coordination,” said Güler announcing the agreement to form the "Black Sea Mine Countermeasures Task Group.” 

Romania’s ambassador to NATO called the agreement an important step in strengthening the security in the Black Sea region. He said the efforts would be complementary to NATO and would “contribute to enhancing NATO’s maritime situational awareness in the Black Sea.”

The ministers reported they have adopted a strategic vision after a proposal Turkey made to Romania and Bulgaria. The agreement calls for close cooperation between the countries and they said would enable the transfer of experience. 

They plan to form a committee made up of naval commanders from Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania and said they would welcome participation from other Black Sea nations. In addition, a Turkish naval commander told Reuters that three minehunting ships from each country and one command control ship will be assigned to the initiative.

“This is an important contribution toward greater freedom of navigation and food security in the region and beyond,” wrote NATO spokesperson Dylan White on X. He said NATO welcomed the initiative.

The reports are that both Russia and Ukraine laid mines at strategic points in the Black Sea. Over the past few months, Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of dropping mines from its planes to block the commercial shipping corridor set up after the collapse of the Black Sea gain agreement brokered in 2022 by the UN and Turkey. Despite the danger, Ukraine reports nearly 500 ships have traveled to its ports to export grain and other products.

The UK announced in early December that Ukraine would receive two minehunting ships from the Royal Navy. At the time, Grant Shapps, UK Defence Secretary, said the vessels would provide a vital capability to maintain the exports and ensure safety on the sea lane. Turkey, however, citing the 1936 Montreux Convention governing the passage of warships in the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, said it would not allow the transit of the two UK ships to Ukraine.

“We have implemented and are implementing the Montreux Straits Convention, which ensures the balance in the Black Sea in line with the principle of regional ownership and is of great importance for the security of the region, carefully, responsibly and impartially,” Güler said today. “We thank all the states that have complied with the rules of the Montreux Convention so far, and we expect the same sensitivity from all states from now on.”