LAST MINUTE : Stricken ship crushes wooden mansion on Istanbul’s Bosphorus

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A cargo vessel crossing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul crashed into a waterside mansion on Saturday due to a technical fault, crushing the fragile wooden building.

The Maltese-flagged Vitaspirit lost control and ploughed into the edifice. The building’s roof and upper floors collapsed and television pictures showed the basement slumping into the water.

Such waterside mansions, known as yalis in Turkish, are among the most historic and expensive properties on the waterway that runs through Istanbul and divides Europe and Asia.

225 metre (740 foot) Vitaspirit, which was heading from Egypt to Ukraine, lost control due to a technical fault with its engines.

Images showed the stricken vessel ramming the mansion on the Asian side of the Bosphorus with the tip of its bow, sending a cloud of dust and rubble into the air as the building collapsed.

The vessel was extracted from the mansion with the help of tugs but the Bosphorus was closed to shipping traffic in both directions, NTV television said. There were no casualties in the collision.

This photo taken on April 7, 2018 shows a historic mansion on the shores of Istanbul’s Bosphorus after a tanker accident. A cargo vessel crossing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul on April 7 crashed into a historic waterside mansion due to a technical fault, causing significant damage. The vessel was extracted from the mansion but the Bosphorus was closed to shipping traffic in both directions as a precaution, the NTV television said. There were no casualties.

This photo taken on April 7, 2018 shows a historic mansion on the shores of Istanbul’s Bosphorus after a tanker accident.
A cargo vessel crossing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul on April 7 crashed into a historic waterside mansion due to a technical fault, causing significant damage. The vessel was extracted from the mansion but the Bosphorus was closed to shipping traffic in both directions as a precaution, the NTV television said. There were no casualties. / AFP PHOTO / GURCAN OZTURK

The wooden Hekimbasi Salih Efendi mansion was built by Ottoman nobles in the 19th century. It had no permanent residents but was rented out for marriage ceremonies or concerts.

The Bosphorus is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and in 2017 it was transited by some 42,000 military, naval and commercial vessels.

The government says the risk of such accidents shows the need to build its planned and hugely controversial new canal for Istanbul that would take the shipping traffic and lessen the pressure on the Bosphorus.

Cem Devrim Yaylali, an Istanbul-based Turkish naval expert and editor of the Bosphorus Naval News website, said there was always a risk of such an incident in the Bosphorus but it should be avoided.

“The risk is there but it is manageable if all parts of the system work as they should,” he told AFP.

“That means the Vessel Traffic Service (traffic control for the ships), the pilots and the ships’ crew and machinery need to work as advertised,” he said.

There has been a litany of shipping accidents in the last decades in the Bosphorus although far fewer in recent years as safety standards and technology improved.

One of the worst was the deadly December 1960 collision between the Yugoslav-flagged tanker Petar Zoranic and the Greek vessel World Harmony that caused a fire which lasted for weeks.

Turkish Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk famously recounts in his 2003 memoir “Istanbul: Memories and the City” the 1963 ramming of a Soviet vessel into the living room of a sleeping Istanbul family.