First tender bids for Canal Istanbul go ahead during pandemic

The Turkish government is ploughing ahead with a massive project to build a shipping canal bypassing Istanbul’s Bosporus Strait in spite of widespread opposition, and despite the urgent challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Five companies bid on Thursday for the tender to reconstruct two historic bridges in Odabaşı and Dursunköy, areas that lie on the route of Canal Istanbul, the planned 28-mile waterway to link the Black Sea and Marmara Sea, Turkish news outlet NTV reported.

The tender was opened for companies who will be tasked with removing the bridges, allowing for excavation work for the canal, before rebuilding them at a suitable place close to their original location, said Sözcü.

But the canal project has been met by challenges from opposition politicians, environmentalists and urban planners who say it could cause irreversible harm to Istanbul’s ecology and even to the seas it will link by dramatically changing the flow of water between them, with different temperatures and salinity levels.

Many Turks see the project as a needless expense on the public purse that Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is pursuing to boost his government’s image while enriching his allies in the construction sector.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu is one of the highest profile opponents of the project and has vowed to do everything in his power to stop it. The opposition mayor called out the government for its decision to go ahead with Wednesday’s tender in the midst of a global pandemic that has left the future uncertain for many Turks.

“Millions of our citizens are at home in fear for their future,” said İmamoğlu in a tweet on Thursday. “I am referring to the public conscience those who have conducted tenders for Canal Istanbul instead of supporting the millions who are concerned for their livelihoods.”

The mayor's words echoed those of many Turks who shared images that showed officials wearing masks during the tender.

Turkey's Transport Ministry hit back, saying that “engaging in opportunism over Canal Istanbul while the struggle against coronavirus continues does more harm than the pandemic."

The number of coronavirus diagnoses in Turkey rose by 561 on Wednesday to reach 2,433, the Health Ministry reported.