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Polemic at the mouth of the Danube

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Polemic at the mouth of the Danube Author.Rear Admiral(UH), (rtr) PhD, Eugen Laurian[1]

Note MSF:The author led the delegation of experts in the HAGA process in the dispute with Ukraine concerning Romania’s Exclusive Economic Zone

Attempts to control the Danube Gorge up to World War II

Throughout history, the mouths of the world’s main navigable waterways have been areas of economic, political and military interest to states in their vicinity, as well as to major international players wishing to extend their hegemony over other peoples. This was the case of the Nile, the Ganges, the Volga, the Rhine and, of course, the Danube. Especially since transport on the Danube was of equal interest to all three great empires of the past – Ottoman, Austrian and Russian – which claimed supremacy over the Carpatho-Pontic area. Two of these – Turkey and Russia – ruled the mouths of the Danube for longer or shorter periods of time (Turkey from 1484 to 1829 and 1856 to 1878, and Russia from 1829 to 1856), while the third – Austria – ruled the central basin of the river, repeatedly claiming territorial extension over the two Romanian principalities.
Tsarist and then Soviet pressure continued steadily on the regions near the mouths of the Danube, as evidenced by the annexation of Bessarabia after the Peace of Bucharest in 1812 and Russia’s occupation of the three southern Bessarabian counties (Cahul, Izmail and Bolgrad), contrary to what had been agreed between Romania and Russia at the beginning of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.
Even though after this war, concluded by the Berlin Peace Treaty of 1 July 1878, the mouths of the Danube belonged to Romania, to which Dobrogea was returned, the Tsarist Empire and its successor – the Soviet Union – have always looked on the Danube Delta with envy. The Slavs in the north-east probably could not take their eyes off the map of the delta, which they occupied after the peace of Adrianopol (1829), the border between Turkey and Russia then becoming the southernmost arm of the Danube, the St George’s Arm. The transfer of the Slavic populations (Russians-Lippovans and Kazakh-Ukrainians) from the vast Russian territories to the Delta and northern Dobrogea took place from the period of social and religious changes initiated by Tsar Peter the Great (1682-1725) until the end of the Crimean War (1856).
The troubles of the Romanians regarding the possession of the Danube Gorges continued even more abruptly around and after the Second World War. Thus, after the brutal occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina, by the Soviet Ultimatum of 28 June 1940, the Great Empire also wanted to occupy some islands on the Chilia arm that were not part of Bessarabia, but belonged to the Dobrogea area. Thus, towards the autumn of 1940, using river ships and marines, the Soviet Union occupied the islands of Tataru Mic, Tataru Mare, Daleru Mic, Daleru Mare, Maican, Cernofca, Babina and Limba, all located south of the Chilia Arm (the route of the deepest waters) which represented the geographical demarcation between Bessarabia and Dobrogea and which, according to international practice, formed the river border between two states.
The real reason why the Soviet Ukrainians living in the north of the Chilia arm were eager to capture these lands was the sturgeons! As the largest number of sturgeons came from the sea to the Danube to spawn on the Chilia arm, their fishing grounds were targeted by both fishermen from the south and north of the arm. As, before the June 1940 kidnapping of Bessarabia, both were Romanian citizens, there were no disagreements between fishermen about the use of the most favourable fishing grounds, which were usually on the deepest reaches of the river.
For a short time after the occupation of Bessarabia all fishermen used the old casting stretches, then, in time, disagreements arose between fishermen from the north and south of the river, culminating in countless killings on both sides. In order to eliminate the competition from the Dobrogea for the valuable black roe, the fishermen from the main towns on the northern bank of the Chilia arm (Izmail, Chilia Noua, Vâlcov) (Romanians turned Ukrainians!) asked the Soviet army to occupy several islands in the southern part of the arm, leaving them the only main fishing grounds. Thus, during September and October 1940, the eight islands mentioned above were occupied by force, and Romania was asked to recognize the new territorial seizure by an act concluded by the Romanian-Soviet Joint Border Commission. To their credit, the Romanian members of the Commission did not agree and so the matter remained suspended for the duration of World War II.

Attempts to control the Danube Gorge after World War II

After the end of the war in 1948, three of the islands occupied in 1940, which were not major sturgeon fishing grounds – Tataru Mare, Cernofca and Babina – were returned to Romania, while the others remained under Soviet and then Ukrainian occupation, contrary to the Paris Peace Treaty concluded after World War II. Thus the river frontier no longer follows the navigable channel of the river, as is international practice, and hence Ukraine’s claim to consider the Chilia Arm as Ukrainian inland water. Moreover, at one point the frontier diverges considerably from its normal route on the navigable branch called Old Stambul, and is arbitrarily established on the Musura Gorge. Through these political-military pressures and manoeuvres, Romania was denied access to navigation and exit to the sea on the main bar of the Danube.

Sketch no. 1: The islands (islets) of Tataru Mic, Dalerul Mic and Daleru Mare, taken by the Soviet Ukrainians in the autumn of 1940.

Sketch No. 2: The islands (islets) of Maican and Limba, kidnapped by the Soviet Ukrainians in the autumn of 1940.
The issue of the five remaining islands under Soviet occupation was to be settled by force by General Stalin in early 1948!
In order to see how, negotiating almost on their knees, the representatives of the Romanian state at that time accepted all Soviet demands (including the surrender of the Snake Island), I reproduce below, in an unofficial translation, part of the transcript of the “Note of the conversation of I.V. Stalin with members of the Romanian government delegation headed by the President of the Council of Ministers, Petru Groza. 1948, 3 February’, in the Moscow archives. The excerpt refers only to the part concerning the capture of the five islands on the Chilia arm, not to the other issues discussed. As far as I know, this document is not in the Romanian national archives, so I believe that its exposure can shed a correct light on Romanian-Soviet relations after World War II.
Here is the excerpt from the senogram:
“Excerpt from the stenogram “Conversation note of I.V. Stalin with members of the Romanian government delegation headed by the President of the Council of Ministers, Petru Groza. 1948, February 3.” (Translation from Russian.)
Reception by I.V. Stalin’s reception of the Romanian government delegation. February 3, 1948, 8 p.m.
From the Romanian side – Petru Groza, President of the Council of Ministers, Ana Pauker, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gheorghiu-Dej, Minister of Industry and Trade, Vasile Luca, Minister of Finance, L. Rădăceanu, Minister of Labour and Social Insurance, Vlădescu-Răcoasa, Romanian Ambassador to the USSR.
From the Soviet side – V.M. Molotov, S.I. Kavtaradze, L.E. Kotliar (interpreter).
I.V. Stalin: Tomorrow the mutual assistance treaty can be signed, only the appropriate papers have to be prepared.
V.M. Molotov: I have one more question. The border between Romania and the USSR has not been completed since 1940. For this, it is necessary that the protocol on the surrender to the Soviet Union of the five islands on the lower arm of the Danube: Malâi Tataru (Tătaru Mic – n.n.), Dalerul Mic, Dalerul Mare, Maican, Limba. The Romanian-Soviet Joint Commission that existed in 1940 failed to reach an agreement on this issue.
I.V. Stalin: By whom are these islands currently occupied?
V.M. Molotov: They are occupied by us [USSR].
I.V. Stalin: Is this legal?
V.M. Molotov: We consider this legal.
Peter Groza: Even up to the Paris Peace Conference I had long disputes with Tătărescu on this matter. Even then the government came to the conclusion that all similar unresolved problems should be solved definitively. This is all the more necessary now that the mutual assistance treaty to be signed should further strengthen the friendly relations between Romania and the USSR. The Romanian Government will take all measures to settle this matter definitively as soon as possible. I have long pondered over it, feeling my responsibility and duty to the fatherland and the people, and have come to the conclusion that the loss of these islands will only mean a decrease in the [production] of black roe. There is, however, the danger of clogging the Sulina Canal of the Danube, which means that Romania will be cut off from the Black Sea. But the danger is even greater if the friendship between Romania and the USSR is blocked. The Romanian people are primarily interested in maintaining this friendship. They must and will understand this.
I.V. Stalin: Does this mean an agreement to this effect?
Petru Groza: Yes.
I.V. Stalin: Is the Danube [Sulina] canal clogging?
Petru Groza: This danger can only be prevented by carrying out extensive dredging works.
I.V. Stalin: All canals require regular dredging. I know that in Romania there was once a plan to build a new canal linking the Danube to the [Black] Sea.
Ana Pauker: 10 years ago there was a plan to build a canal between Cernavodă and Constanța, but that plan was abandoned.
I.V. Stalin: If Romania ever returns to this plan, we can help.
Petru Groza: Collaboration with the USSR will more than compensate for the loss of the islands. It is clear to me that the Soviet Union needs these islands in order to be able to control all the mouths of the Danube. Such control by a friendly power such as the USSR will not only not embarrass Romania, but can only be of use to it.
I.V. Stalin: Thank you for your kind words. And if the Romanian government returns to the plan to build the canal, it can be given help and support for it.
P. Groza: In its relations with the Soviet Union, the Romanian Government is not guided by opportunistic impulses, but only by a correct understanding of the interests of our people.
I.V. Stalin: We [the Soviets] think the same way.
V.M. Molotov: Does this mean that we can sign this protocol [on the surrender of the islands] at the same time as the mutual assistance treaty?
Ana Pauker: Is it possible to include in the text of the protocol the question of aid and support from the Soviet Government in the construction of the Danube-Black Sea canal?
V.M. Molotov: It is necessary to sign the protocol concerning that part of the border on which the agreement was not reached. Are there any questions from the Romanian delegation?
Petru Groza, [after consulting with the members of the delegation]: There are none.
It is easy to see from the transcript that the Romanian representatives were treated not as dialogue partners but as losers in the war and that the demands of the winners, whatever they were, had to be met.
Following Stalin’s “recommendations”, work on the Danube-Black Sea Canal was to begin only a year later, but due to the lack of advanced technology and Romania’s precarious economic strength at the time, it was to be abandoned soon after Stalin’s death in 1953. Much later, in 1976, the construction of the canal was resumed and completed with its inauguration by the Romanian government on 26 May 1984.
I believe that the Soviet Union, through the voice of Stalin, recommended the construction of a navigable canal between Cernavodă and Constanța, not for the sake of our country, but out of a desire to extend its territory over the Danube Delta and, perhaps, the north of Dobrogea, with the argument that Romania still had an exit to the sea through this new canal called ‘Danube – Black Sea’!
To extend its territory after the Second World War, the Soviet Union devised new stratagems. Thus, with the VALEV Plan of 1963, it proposed to the ‘friendly’ countries of the Black Sea basin to form a phantom state composed of several regions of Romania, including Dobrogea, southern Bessarabia and north-eastern Bulgaria. The aim was probably to create a new Soviet government and increase its influence over the Black Sea and the Lower Danube region.
Aware that Romania had control over access from the Danube to the world ocean through the Sulina Channel, the only internationally recognised navigable waterway, the Soviet Union repeatedly tried to break its monopoly by opening a new waterway using the Chilia Channel since the 1950s. Thus, the Oceacov and Prorva branch arms were successively deepened, leading from Chilia to the north-east and providing a shorter link between the Danube ports and the Soviet ports of Odessa and Nicolaev. As the sea currents in the western Black Sea basin move from north to south at an average speed of 3-5 km/h, the action of the sea waves caused all the silt carried by the river to settle at the mouths of these channels, making them impassable. One by one, all these attempts had to be abandoned. In 1983-1985 it was also the turn of the small secondary branch of the Bâstroye to be tested by widening and deepening. The change in the leadership of the Soviet empire and the start of the “perestroika and glasnosti” programmes after 1985 led to the work being abandoned before it reached the planned level.
The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 did not dampen the desire of its heir – Ukraine – to control maritime traffic at the mouth of the Danube. Quite the opposite, in fact! Thus, just a few days after declaring its state independence, by deliberately sinking its ship ‘ROSTOK’ off Partizani on the Sulina Arm on 3 September 1991, Ukraine tried to block Danube navigation to the Black Sea by the only route recognised by the Danube Commission – the Sulina Channel – and transfer it to the Chilia Arm. The work to unblock the arm took almost 14 years, with Romania spending extremely large sums of money that were never (unwillingly?) recovered from the guilty state. We have always been reactive and disadvantaged in our relations with Ukraine! And this, only and only because of the incompetence of the new state leaders.
More recently, the geopolitical interest in the Danube Gorges was underlined by the head of the US Navy’s naval operations – Rear Admiral Prueher – who stated in 1995 that “the US pays particular attention to Turkey and Romania in the south-eastern part of Europe. Turkey, because it holds the keys to the entrance from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, and Romania, because it holds the keys to the entrance from the Black Sea to Europe”.
Recently, some documents drafted by the US Congress and published at the end of 2022 (Black Sea Security Act) showed that, in order to avoid the restrictions established by the Montreux Convention of 1936 on the entry of military ships into the Black Sea, the US would be interested in setting up a military port in the Danube Delta area (probably Sulina?) where several small and medium-sized ships capable of facing the Russian naval danger would be based. Whether this is media hype or not, such a probability should be considered!
But let’s look, chronologically, at the recent events that have “inflamed”, as the country’s president recently put it, public opinion:
Until the widening and deepening of the Bastoye Canal in 2004-2006, the width of this secondary arm of the Chalkidiki did not exceed 85-90 meters (sometimes even 40-50 meters), and its depths varied between 1.3 and 2.5 meters. In other words, the channel only allowed boats and dinghies with a draught of less than one metre to travel.
During the work in 2004-2006, in contravention of international environmental conventions and protests from Romania, Ukraine hired German companies to widen and deepen the small, only 10 km long, narrow channel called the Bastroye by dredging it in order to create a shorter link between the Chilia arm and the Black Sea and make it accessible to shipping. Throughout the period of international discussions and protests the work continued, and it was only towards the end of 2006, following pressure from the international community, that the work was stopped. In the meantime, the channel has been deepened to a minimum of 3.9 metres, which has led to a noticeable drop in the water flow on the other two arms of the Danube Gorge (Sulina and Sfântu Gheorghe).
In order to avoid the silting up of the waters discharged by the Bâstroye when it meets the sea, by creating what is commonly known as the “canal bar” caused by river deposits under the effect of sea waves, the German companies that designed the project also proposed the construction of dykes at the canal’s mouth, similar to those built by Romania on the Sulina canal.
During the same period (2004-2006), Ukraine held diplomatic consultations with a number of European countries bordering the Danube (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia) with a view to identifying their wishes to buy or lease space on the Ukrainian side of the Danube where they could develop port capacity for transhipment of goods brought by sea on river vessels. It seems that such proposals have been well received!!!
Following agitation and criticism from international bodies, work on deepening the new route desired by Ukraine was halted during 2006.
On 9 February 2022 (13 days before the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war!) the Kiev Council of Ministers announced a list of the main inland waters of Ukraine where navigation is allowed and the maximum permitted draught. Contrary to geographical evidence, the Chilia River, which forms the border with Romania, is included in the category of inland waters of the Ukrainian state (as are the Dnieper and the Bug). The document states that this waterway, as well as the Bastroye Channel (widened to a minimum of 120 metres and deepened to 3.9 metres since 2004-2005), allows the navigation of sea vessels with a maximum draught of 7.5 metres. In other words, despite the provisions of international environmental conventions to which Romania and Ukraine are also parties, work is starting on deepening the Bastoye Canal and the Chilia arm to a minimum of 8.5 metres. These works involve considerably increasing the flow of the Chilia arm to the detriment of the other two Danube arms, Sulina and Sfântu Gheorghe, and, consequently, banning maritime navigation on the Sulina arm. The decrease in the volume of water in these mouths of the Danube will lead to the drying up of the secondary channels in the delta and, automatically, to a drastic change in the biological balance of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, an aquatic area under UNESCO heritage.
On 16 February 2022, the Izmail Port Captaincy issues a document informing all ship owners that navigation between the Black Sea and the Izmail port is allowed for seagoing vessels with a maximum draught of 7.5 metres. This was despite the fact that at that time work had not yet begun on deepening the route. The document, however, gave the go-ahead for the dredging work to be carried out to deepen the waterway.
Three days later, on 19 February 2022, the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure acknowledged that the minimum depths on the Bastoye Canal would be increased by dredging from 3.9 metres to 6.5 metres. The intention of our neighbour, which was only five days away from going to war with Russia, was that on the basis of the sympathy and support of the democratic states of Europe and America, generated by opposition to Russia’s hegemonic tendencies, it would ignore international conventions on the environment and open a shipping lane on the Chilia Arm and the Bastoye Canal. In this way, Ukraine would avoid using the Sulina arm and save pilotage fees (up to $400 for a ship, plus $1.59 per tonne of cargo carried). In addition, by deepening the specified route, the four Ukrainian ports on the Danube (Reni, Izmail, Chilia and Valcov) would be linked to the Black Sea by a more easily accessible waterway (in width and depth) than the Sulina channel, which would allow the passage of ships with a larger transport capacity than is possible on the Sulina arm (probably up to 80,000 dwt.). Added to this is the facility gained by shortening the navigation on narrow protrusions from 63 km, the length of the Sulina arm, to 10 km., the length of the Bastoye Canal.
Contrary to the rules laid down in the international conventions to which it is a signatory, in July 2022, without notifying the Danube Commission (based in Budapest) and Romania, a country which shares a border on the Chilia arm, Ukraine started a series of other works to deepen the Brâstoye canal and key points on the Chilia whose depths were less than 9 metres. The aim of these works was to create a new shipping route from the Black Sea to the Danube ports, thus avoiding the use of the Sulina Canal, the only route recognised by the international community under the 1948 Belgrade Convention.
Taking advantage of the international turmoil generated by the Russian-Ukrainian war unleashed on 24 February 2022 and the sympathy of the democratic countries for the aggressed state, the Ukrainian leadership believed that the work on the new Danube route would go unnoticed, or that by the time the other states had woken up, the damage would have been done and no action could be taken to remedy it .

Sketch no. 3: Critical points on the Romanian-Ukrainian common river border whose depths will be dredged to over 9 metres.

However, by autumn 2022, Ukraine is asking the European Union to include the Bastoye – Chilia route in the European inland waterway transport network (TEN-T), not taking into account that the European Union has no competence to approve this request. The request should have been made to the Danube Commission, the body responsible for this area, and to Romania, as the state affected by the possible future consequences of the deepening of the two arms, before any work began.
According to some as yet unconfirmed information in the international press, Ukraine is preparing several port areas on the Chilia branch which it would rent to the five Danube states (Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany) to use these facilities to bring goods from southern and eastern Asia to central Europe. This also explains the deepening by dredging of a section of the Solomonov arm, which is equally distant between the ports of Chilia Noua and Vâlcov. It seems that two of the countries listed above have already expressed their intention to lease/purchase the sites in question. By this manoeuvre Ukraine would hide Romania’s strategic position which, through the port of Constanta, could become the nodal point of entry for maritime shipments arriving from Asia to the heart of Europe. Here is another way of Ukraine’s obstruction of Romania’s economic interests!
So Ukraine is totally ignoring Romania even though it benefits from our country’s generous support in limiting the consequences of the conflict with Russia!
As someone who participated for over seven years in the negotiations with the Ukrainians on maritime delimitation in the Black Sea and then for another four years in the Hague process, I am not surprised by the Ukrainian behaviour! Throughout that period, their conduct was one of expressing Slavic superiority over a third-rate country, treating their Romanian counterparts with arrogance and infatuation. I believe that this imperial-like behaviour was inherited from the Tsarist and Soviet times, as they knew no other way of convincing their opponents than “beating their fists”.
Returning to the topic of the day, it seems that for a long time Romania’s highest authorities have remained passive to the danger of altering the biodiversity of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve caused by the decrease in water flow on the other two branches of the river. It was only after the Romanian press learned about the works to deepen the Chilia – Bastoye route and reduce the flow in the rest of the delta that the Romanian authorities began to get agitated.
At present, the Ukrainian suction and repulsion dredger “INGULSKY” and the German, Tanzanian-flagged “HEGEMANN – IV” (Germany again?) are continuing the work on deepening the Batstroye channel and some shallower points on the Chilia arm. Thus, after nineteen years of relative pause, under the auspices of the international community’s support caused by Russia’s aggression against eastern Ukraine, it has resumed the illegal action of opening up the Chilia arm of the Danube to shipping. And all this contrary to previous decisions by which European states decided that the only sea link between the river and the Black Sea was the Sulina arm, Romania having the responsibility to maintain a depth (minimum 24 feet English) so as to allow maritime navigation for ships with a maximum draught of 7 meters, along the entire length of the route.


The creation of a new shipping route from the Black Sea to the Danube and through it to the centre of Europe, which would nullify/shatter Romania’s supremacy in this area via the Sulina Canal, has been a constant feature of Russian imperial, Soviet imperial and, more recently, “Ukrainian democratic” policy. The main motivation is the economic advantages resulting from the collection of pilotage and cargo fees to all Danube ports, as well as from the eventual lease/sale of port platforms to central European countries.
Although Ukraine’s contribution to the volume of water flowing into the Danube Delta is close to zero, with no significant rivers or streams flowing through the Ukrainian territory in the Bugeac area, it benefits from the Danube arm with the highest water flow. However, Ukraine is working assiduously to ‘steal water’ from the Romanian arms of the Danube Delta with the obvious aim of transferring maritime navigation through its territory.
By deepening the entire Chilia-Bastroye route to 8.5-9 metres, the flow taken by the Chilia arm of the Danube will increase from 60% (as it is at present) to 72-75%, while the flow of the Tulcea arm will decrease from 40% to 28-25%. As a result, the flows of the Sfântu Gheorghe and Sulina arms, which branch off from the Tulcea arm at sea mile 34, will also be drastically reduced. Thus, the water volume of the Sfântu Gheorghe arm will decrease from 22% to 17% and that of the Sulina arm from 18% to 11%. Under these conditions, maritime navigation on the Sulina arm, the only one provided for in the Belgrade Convention as a link between the Danube and the Black Sea, will become impossible.
The deepening of the Bastoye Channel to a depth of more than 8 metres will not automatically lead to a reduction in the flow of water in the Sulina and Sfântu Gheorghe arms, as there are a number of areas on the Chilia arm where the river’s shallower depths do not allow the water to flow quickly. This reduction in the volume of water and, consequently, in the depths of the other two arms of the delta will only become evident after the other 8-9 points on the Chilia arm that will have to be dredged have been deepened from 5-6 metres to at least 8.5 metres.
Ukraine’s efforts to open a new waterway to central Europe will be supported by several European countries, including those bordering the Danube: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia. These countries will want to lease or buy ports on the Ukrainian shore in order to build their own maritime fleets, Hungary already having ships under its flag. Russia, a member of the Danube Commission but without direct access to the river, will certainly be against such works.
After obtaining an agreement in principle from the European Commission, Ukraine will ask the Danube Commission to include the new Bastoye – Chilia shipping route in the Rhine – Main – Danube European waterway transport network. With the support of the states interested in opening port facilities on the Chilia arm, Ukraine will acquire this agreement and from then on navigation on the Sulina arm can be forgotten.
If Romania and the international community are unable to persuade Ukraine to stop deepening the Bastoye and Chilia channels, the next step for the Ukrainians will be to build dykes, similar to those on the Sulina, which will be 5-6 km further out to sea. The role of these dykes is to make the alluvial deposits at the “Basstroye bar” as small and as far out to sea as possible.
The change in the percentage of water between the three arms of the Danube will be to the detriment of those transiting through Romanian territory. Thus, the decrease in the flow of the Sulina and Sfântu Gheorghe arms will lead to the accentuated clogging of the secondary arms (Dunavăț, Dranov, Litcov, Caraorman, etc.) that flow towards the Razim – Sinoe lagoon complex and the other lakes of the delta, causing a worrying change in the water composition and biodiversity of the area. Their decontamination will require additional expenditure, effort and resources that Romania will find it difficult to afford.
The opinions of some citizens living in villages on the Chilia arm, questioned by the Romanian press, regarding the drop in water levels after the deepening of the Bâstroye canal are totally irrelevant. This is because the water level in this arm will not fall, regardless of the amount of work needed to deepen the entire arm. What will decrease is the flow of the Tulcea, Sulina and Sfântu Gheorghe arms, whose waters will be drawn towards the Chilia arm by deepening the drainage bed. A correct conclusion of the decrease in the water levels of these arms can be drawn only by measuring the water level, or the river flow, in the localities of Partizani, Maliuc and Crișan, on the Sulina arm, or in Mahmudia, Murighiol and Dunavăț, on the Sfântu Gheorghe arm.
The quantity of fish in the Romanian arms of the delta, as well as in the lakes fed by water from these arms, will decrease considerably, leading to a reduction in the number of water birds specific to the area. The migration of sturgeons to spawning grounds will be even more evident in favour of the Chilia arm and its secondary arms and thus fishermen from Ukrainian localities.
Shipping on the Sulina arm will steadily decline, with ships and their owners preferring the new (more gentle and cheaper!) Bastoye – Chilia route, until it disappears altogether. Under these conditions, Romania will no longer be able to fulfil its Belgrade Convention obligation to maintain a minimum depth of 24 feet (7.31 metres) along the entire route for which it is responsible, and in time the town of Sulina will turn into a fishing village, with the population having no incentive to continue living there.
The entire population of the delta (approximately 13,500 people) will suffer from the morphological changes, and especially from the reduction in fish stocks, preferring to migrate to other lands.
Such an ecological catastrophe can only be avoided by stopping the deepening of the route that Ukraine wants! That is to say, both the Bastoye canal and the Chilia arm! If this is not possible, in order to return the volume of water to the Romanian arms and to maintain the navigability of the Sulina arm, a canal must be built, 180-200 metres wide and at least 8.5 metres deep, about 8 km after the Tulcea arm leaves the Danube. With a length of about 3 km, the new canal will short-circuit the bend in the Danube at Tulcea, increase the flow of the two arms, Sulina and Sfîntu Gheorghe, to levels close to those previously experienced and shorten the navigation distance between the Black Sea and Galati by about 7 km. It is also necessary to widen by 20-30 metres the entrance to the Tulcea arm, near Pătlăgeanca. This will make it possible to maintain navigability on the Sulina arm, in accordance with the Belgrade Convention. A study on this subject was carried out by Romania in the 1970s and 1980s, but the canal was not built because at that time there was no pressure to reduce the volume of water in the Romanian sector of the Danube Delta.
The canal will have to be built under exactly the same conditions under which the Ukrainians worked: i.e. without the consent of the neighbouring state, but with the notification of the Danube Commission! Romania’s argument will be the one established by the provisions of the Belgrade Convention, i.e. maintaining the minimum depth of 24 feet along the entire route of the Tulcea and Sulina arms!

Outline No. 4: Actions to be taken by Romania (digging the Tulcea North channel and widening the bend at Pătlăgeanca) to maintain the normal flow of the Tulcea arm and the navigability of the Sulina arm.

[1] Eugen Laurian: Under the Magnifying Glass of Destiny, pp. 271-273; Military Publishing House, 2019.

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