Kerch Canal poses safety threat

KRASNODAR TERRITORY, RUSSIA – MARCH 13, 2019: An aerial view of Kerch Strait Bridge under construction, the future road-rail bridge of 19 km [11.8 miles] in length meant to link Crimea's Kerch Peninsula to mainland Russia over Tuzla Spit. Sergei Malgavko/TASS

A series of merchant ships that ran aground in the Kerch-Yenikale canal in 2018 has been blamed on the construction of the Kerch Bridge by the Russian authorities, which has led to silting and reduced the depth of the commercial route.

The construction of the Crimean Bridge has altered the hydrodynamics in the Kerch Canal, with the average depth on the main commercial route now shrunk from 8 m in 2015, when the construction started, to just 4.9 m in 2018, local news outlet Kerch FM reported, referring to the official estimates from the Kerch Sea Port administration.

There is a vorticity of streams near the piles and other obstacles caused by the bridge that contributes to the shallowing, agreed Valentin Bryantsev, hydrogeologist from the Taurida National University in Crimea. These “eddies” enhance the turbulent mixing of waters near the bridge and speed up the erosion and removal of soil particles, Bryantsev said, adding that the shallowing in this context is inevitable and dredging works must be done to improve the situation.

Prior to the construction, there were two navigable passes in the Kerch Canal, but the Kerch Bridge has blocked the deep-water pass, according to local analyst Igor Maskalevich. Now all ships in the Kerch Canal must use one route, which further accelerates its shallowing. This is a common problem for Russian and Ukrainian seaports in the Azov Sea, and negatively impacts the cargo flow in the region, Maskalevich said.

The issue means that large vessels can no longer safely pass through the Kerch Canal. The problem could be solved, he added, but it requires investments in dredging. However, it is unclear whether Russian or Ukrainian authorities will foot the dredging bill, as Crimea remains a disputed region despite the fact that the canal is run by Russia.