ANKARA Turkey will forge ahead with plans for a 45-km (30 mile) ship canal linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara to try to ease congestion in the Bosphorus Strait, one of the world's busiest waterways, the government said on Friday.
The "Kanal Istanbul" plans are a pet project of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who announced them ahead of a general election in 2011 in what many Turks dismissed as a prestigious but unrealistic vision.
The canal would turn the European side of Istanbul into part of a large island, running parallel and to the north-west of the Bosphorus. Under the plans, land dug up may be used to fill in part of the sea and create a third airport and sea port.
"We believe that this is a very realistic project that will be talked about by the world," Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan told reporters in Ankara, adding the country's Higher Planning Council had decided to go ahead with the project.
He did not comment on the projected cost.
The Bosphorus is the only maritime outlet to the world's oceans for Black Sea states.
Turkish officials estimate that some 150 million tonnes of oil and petroleum products pass through the environmentally sensitive waters each year. It is also an important export route for Russian and Ukrainian grains and other products.
(Reporting by Ozge Ozbilgin; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Anthony Barker)