Turkey Refuses to Let Two Royal Navy Minehunters Pass Through Bosporus

Istanbul's skyline over the Bosporus (file image courtesy Alexxx Malev / CC BY SA 3.0)

Published Jan 2, 2024 8:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Turkish government said Tuesday that it will not allow the UK to move two ex-Royal Navy minehunters through the Bosporus for delivery to Ukraine. Turkey controls the strategic waterway under the terms of the Montreux Convention of 1936.

The convention empowers Turkey to close the Bosporus to warships while a conflict is under way in the Black Sea - even to ships of Turkey's allies, like fellow NATO member Britain. 

"Türkiye immediately classified Russia's special military operation against Ukraine as 'war' and, in accordance with Article 19 of the Montreux Convention . . . closed the Straits to warships of the belligerent parties (Russia and Ukraine)," the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement. "Our pertinent allies have been duly apprised that the mine-hunting ships donated to Ukraine by the United Kingdom will not be allowed to pass through the Turkish Straits to the Black Sea as long as the war continues."

Ukraine has already acknowledged that the much-needed minehunters won't be able to make it through the Turkish-controlled waterway, at least not until the war is over. However, the announcement from Ankara makes it official: the vessels will have to wait for a hoped-for conclusion to the conflict, when they would be handy for reopening ports and waterways. 

Since the outset of the invasion in February 2022, Russia has been determined to cripple Ukrainian shipping, and one of its tactics has been to lay naval mines in the Black Sea. In recent months, at least three ships have been damaged by mines along the route, and Ukraine says the number could be much higher. 

To counter Russia’s covert mine-planting missions, the UK is donating two older Sandown-class minehunters to Ukraine. The Royal Navy is transitioning to an unmanned vessel-based minehunting platform and is phasing out its manned mine countermeasures ships. The two donated vessels come equipped with two underwater remote-controlled mine-disposal vehicles and a high-resolution sonar. 

“These minehunters . . . will help save lives at sea and open up vital export routes, which have been severely limited since Putin launched his illegal full-scale invasion,” UK defense secretary Grant Shapps said last month. 

Top image: The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge over the Bosporus (file image courtesy Alexxx Malev / CC BY SA 3.0)