Born in 1968 in Yozgat province, Yusuf Ötürk attended primary school in a village, secondary school in Ankara and high school in Kayseri. He realized tthat he did not want to be a scientist while attending Ankara University, Faculty of Science, and transferred to Maritime Faculty of Dokuz Eylül University in 1988 and graduated with a degree. In 1991, stepped into themaritime, Öztürk, later founded Marti Link Container Services Ltd in 1999. Öztürk together with his wife, Gamze Alevok Öztürk, operates the YUGA Hotel in Alacati. Öztürk was elected as the president of İzmir Branch in May 2013.SeaNews: Mr. Öztürk; first of all thank you for this opportunity. . Can we start by asking you about our magazine, if you have had a chance to look at it?
Yusuf Öztürk: I think it is a great magazine. Congratulations to everyone who has contributed to this very interesting magazine. I understand it is also distributed abroad. Great. This magazine proves that the Turkish maritime industry is not all about commerce but also has a very active news media.
SeaNews: Thank you for the kind words. Firstly, what are your comments about the problems at the Izmir port and also the new port at Çandarlı area which is under construction? What solutions would you suggest?
Yusuf Öztürk: The construction of the port of Izmir began in 1954.It has been constructed step by step. There are still some steps not completed yet. It used to be the largest port in the Aegean region, until two years ago.
Two years ago, two new container terminals entered into service in the Aliağa region. Until then, İzmir Port was the sole outlet for exporters in the Aegean Region, and even for apricot exporters in the Eastern Anatolia Region. It still is. Recently, there have been some questions put forward about the fate of İzmir Port: Terminate it? Keep it? If kept operational, whether to keep it as a cruise port? Convert it to a marina? In the same region, there is also Çandarlı Port, which is being developed. The Aliağa area is full of ports. Combining them altogether in your mind would bring out such a picture such that… İzmir Port is now stranded in the heart of the city…
SeaNews: The land owned by the port is also very valuable. Could this be the main reason behind saying ‘terminate the port’?
Yusuf Öztürk: All the trouble stems from this. The port is at a prime location in the heart of the city. But a benefit analysis is needed. Turkey has targets for the year 2023. Within 2023 an export value of $ 500 billion is expected and the expected import value for 2023 is 650 billion dollars. To handle such a large volume of cargo, that has a total value $1200 billion, new ports are needed, instead of terminating existing ones. İzmir Port handled 705000 TEU last year. At the Ports of Aliaga, the amount was 430000 TEU for the same period. This is container volume alone. On the other hand, 54 million tons of bulk cargo was handled in the ports of Aliaga region whereas the Izmir port handled only 9 million tons of bulk cargo.
So we need to end the discussion on the closure of the Izmir Port.
In fact, the picture is clear - İzmir Port has become a cruise and container terminal. Actually, in 2007, when the port was to be privatized, a consortium had bought it. However, due to the crisis and having failed to meet the requirements, the consortium had given up. The citizens of Izmir tried very hard at that period of time. Some media representatives and scientists struggled to prevent the privatization of İzmir Port. Their argument was that, there was no reason to privatize an already profitable port. But I think it should have been privatized. Then, there would be investments made. Now ,for example, when a crane breaks down, the process to repair it begins with opening a tender, which takes a lot of time while the cargo waits. I always say that the Directorate of Izmir Port has had the tough job of managing this port. Now the Minister (Mr. Binali Yıldırım) has pledged to invest in the port. He has agreed to invest TL 400 million in the port of İzmir, and this is being realized. NGOs, such as ours, have to accelerate the realization of these investments and create public awareness. We need to end the discussion on the closure of the Izmir Port. It can continue to serve as a container and a cruise port, side by side. After the unsuccessful privatization attempt in 2007, the Government separated the port terminals. A tender for privatization was organized for cruise and cargo terminals separately. But there were not many takers for the cruise port. This is because the cruise terminal, due to its nature, requires infrastructure and feedback. But this issue brings up discussions in İzmir. Feedback means hotels and shopping centers. But at the heart of İzmir, where the port is located, some people are against such infrastructure, while some people are for it. The people of İzmir have a habit; they say ‘this white color is not suitable’. But when asked to suggest a better option, they don’t. If everything is done, then they will complain that there are too many tourists.
SeaNews: Recently, during the long holiday of the Feast of Sacrifice, many cruise ships came but shops were closed. What are your comments about this?
Yusuf Öztürk: If you look at other countries, at certain times of the day, such as siesta time, shops close for 4-5 hours. Sometimes these feast periods combine with weekends and people see this as an opportunity for a vacation rather than a feast.
Izmir region has many shopping centers. Everyone spends time at shopping malls. But there has been a recent revision made by the Administration about Privatization. They have lowered the price of lands allocated for shopping malls by half at the port area, which is subject to privatization. Looking at the future prospects of İzmir Port; it can serve the southern hinterland. Let there be new ports built. The world’s 10th Largest port is being built at Çandarlı. But it is considered an intercontinental transit port. Let all of these ports be built and give people the option to choose.
Port specialization might be an option. What does this mean? Some types of ships might use this port. For example, one port might only serve IMO and IMCO cargoes while some others could serve liquid cargoes.
SeaNews: Given the areas of attraction such as the Virgin Mary pilgrimage tourism and Ephesus, which port is to be preferred, İzmir Port or Kuşadası Port?
Yusuf Öztürk: Cruise tourism is now very popular in this region. The Chamber of Shipping’s İzmir Branch has spent a lot of time in achieving this. If you ask me, ‘İzmir Port or Kuşadası Port’, I would say “both!” Some 40-50% of tourists arrive in İzmir bound for this area while some others prefer the Bergama district. There is a very nice port also at Çesme where the number of passengers is increasing every day but we cannot afford them all. İzmir, Çeşme and Kuşadasi are all suitable ports for religious tourism.
SeaNews: Pilot boarding points had been relocated out of Yenikale fairway last year, but this system was discontinued as soon as it had begun. What was the reason? Was safety sacrificed for money?
Yusuf Öztürk: No such thing. You might have noticed that at the moment ships arriving into İzmir from anchor off Göztepe district and wait for their turn to berth. However, right at the entrance of the bay of Izmir, there is the Yenikale passage, which is surrounded by shallow water. Only the fairway has depth, but shipmasters with no experience could lead their ships aground. However, there have not been any groundings for the last 4 years. This is because the area has been better controlled. The shipmaster is a professional who navigates the seven seas. For him/her, passing through a restricted narrow waterway should not be a problem. The issue is the people who fish there in their two - three meter small boats. Ships see the fishing boats just at the place where they have to make a sharp turn which created a risk for them. So for that reason, when the port regulations were being reviewed, the idea came out to make that area more safe. For this they wanted to re-locate the pilot boarding point and anchorage out of the İzmir Bay. A regulation was made accordingly for ships over and under 5 thousand GRT. But then we realized that; İzmir is already a very busy port. When you pick up the pilot outside of harbor limits you lose 2 hours. This was not feasible for such a congested port. It has nothing to do with the cost of the pilotage. 100-200 USD more is nothing if it is for safety. There is also another aspect to the matter: if this new change could have been announced well in advance, for instance, if it was said that ‘changes would take effect after 2015’ then everybody - ship-owners, ship agents could have planned accordingly. But when you say I made a regulation today and it will enter into force tomorrow, that does not work. But we are grateful to our Minister, Undersecretary, and general managers at the Ministry, and to our Harbour Master. They have decided to prolong the status-quo for a certain period of time. But it is not a strict rule; a change might happen at any time.
SeaNews: How are your relations with the former President and current Chairman of the Assembly- Mr. Geza Dologh? Do you have an understanding with each other?
Yusuf Öztürk: There is a relationship of brotherhood amongst seamen. Elder brother is elder brother. He should always act accordingly. So should the younger brother. We are all mariners in the executive board. At the executive board there are three master mariners, two business operators who are all from a maritime background. 70% of people at the assembly are part of the maritime fraternity. So now we have started to become a little more technical. We are getting advice from the President from time to time. In Turkey there is a situation like this, the seat is very attractive! But before elections! I make this point figuratively; but I cannot understand why the seat is so attractive to some people! I’m on my 5th month now, which is really nice! But income from my own business has gone down by 35% and I have not had time for my family. It is a voluntary non-governmental organization and as the entire board, we put our hearts and souls into our work and have done many good things in the past 5 months.
Believe me, the Harbour Master and our Chamber has put a lot of effort into the Pilotage issue. We have made the issue open for discussion.
I have received many phone calls regarding the employment issue. People have asked me ‘What can you do? There is no work, no shift at the cranes!’ I spoke personally with the general manager of TCDD (Turkish Republic State Railways) who owns the port and after that, workers were enrolled, tallymen employed and finally shifts could be set up. Your (media) contribution to NGOs cannot be denied. Both of us can solve a number of issues more quickly when we work together. Turkey’s biggest chance at this period is having Mr. Binali Yıldırım at the ministry. A minister who has always listened and found solutions. And all the General Managers do the same, they are always on the other end of the phone when a problem arises. Their ears are for us.
Our Chamber could be perceived as commercial, but along with our work, we also have a commitment to maritime education. We have an understanding with Eylül University and with other maritime branches. We provide participation and support to each of their national and international symposia and panels. Turkey now has a specialized maritime university- Piri Reis. This is a very good thing. Universities are very important for us. We offer scholarships for 36 students at vocational high schools. This is a gratuitous scholarship. We offer it to successful students that are in need. We conduct sailing courses. We organize competitions in sailing and swimming.
We are currently doing a scientific study together with the University. We figure out our member profiles. What is his/her situation is he/she a member? Could we provide any support to help members do their work more efficiently? We are carrying out a scientific study about this with the University.
SeaNews: There used to be criticism that the money of the İzmir branch has to be sent to Istanbul. Is this still the case?
Yusuf Öztürk: Yes, it’s still being sent, and will continue to be sent. We are a branch. If there is a head office it is the address to which money has to be sent. If you require funds, you are free to make a request and the head office should approve and grant your request. Our branch has a balanced budget and we meet our needs within our branch without asking anyone. We prepare our own budget. A large part of our budget –not only ours but all other branches – goes to Piri Reis University through TÜDEV (Turkish Maritime Education Foundation). One of the persons who used to speak negatively about Piri Reis University recently got his son admitted there. After the University opened last week, he called me and talked about what a fabulous place it was and that he was proud of it. This was the leading person amongst those that always said that the money of İzmir was going to Istanbul. Whatever I have requested for has been met by the İstanbul head office. Mr. Geza had different priorities but I give importance to member satisfaction. I am inclined to do things that make our members happy.
SeaNews: On this issue of our Magazine, there will be an interview related to ship recycling. What would you like to say about this activity which is located within your region?
Yusuf Öztürk: Ship dismantling in this area is the only place within Europe. China and India are not easy to compete with. India, in particular. Ship Recycling Facilities with the highest safety standards are in Turkey. It is not problem-free, problems arise time to time, but President Adem (Adem Simsek) is not only the head of the national association but also the head of the international association. It is a sector that made profit while freight rates went down. A profitable sector in the crisis. There are 21 facilities. All of them work at 90% of their capacity. They employed 350 people when they started and now they employ around 1500 people. In Aliağa region there is a port, there is Petkim (Petro-chemical Holding Inc.) and there is ship recycling. We can call İzmir as the City of Ports.
SeaNews: Is there anything that you would like to add? Any message? And what would you like to say about EXPO 2020?
Yusuf Öztürk: We have a vision of ‘maritime people, maritime nation’. I have been on this chair for the past 5 months but I have not sat on it even 5 times. I always say we need to change people on the seats from time to time. We need to give a chance to young people. Experiences need to be shared with young people. I would also like to thank the Executive Board Committee.
For EXPO 2020, Mr. Geza is in the Executive Board Committee and also part of the Steering Committee. Mr. Geza was elected to EXPO during his Presidency and has put a lot effort in it. He had to move on. A member of the executive board of the Chamber of Shipping will have a chair in the EXPO’s Executive Board and that member will be announced on November 27.
SeaNews: Mr. Öztürk, we would like to thank you for your frank and honest answers.