Turkey is planning to attract tourists from Israel, Lebanon and Libya to its southern shores via a soon-to-be-opened maritime transportation route.
The Hatay Sea Bus (HADO), which will also serve as the sea border gate, is scheduled to start its voyages at the end of May. The first passengers will be transported from the region to the Gazimağusa (Famagusta) Port of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Later, the route will also serve as a sea bridge between the southern Turkish city of Hatay and several countries, including Israel, Libya and Lebanon.
Last week, a press tour was held at the HADO Project, which is also a key component of the “Expo 2021 Hatay” set to take place in the Arsuz district of Hatay starting on April 1.
According to information provided during the press tour, the foundation for HADO, which is expected to make Hatay a trade and tourism center, was laid in 2020.
For the project, a port was built in this region in line with international standards to help revive Turkey’s international maritime transportation.
The 100-meter-long (328-foot-long), 4-meter-wide dock built at HADO Port was designed for boats under 500 gross tonnage.
All safety requirements set by the maritime industry based on the guidelines of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have been fulfilled at the port. The facility was also designated as a maritime border gate following a decision by the president.
In line with the requests of the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry’s General Directorate of Coastal Safety, the necessary lighthouse and other equipment were included in the facility, the certification conditions were fulfilled, and the necessary procedures were carried out for the terminal to be declared a bonded area.
Bülent Ok, deputy secretary-general of Hatay Metropolitan Municipality, said the port is now ready for international passenger transportation.
HADO passengers will be regularly transported to the TRNC’s Famagusta Port for strategic purposes in the first stage and in the next stage, routes to Israel, Libya and Lebanon on the Mediterranean will be organized, Ok said. He also said approximately 100,000 Hatay residents live in the TRNC and that HADO is a crucial service for them.
Pointing out that the rough season in the Mediterranean is expected to end before the voyages kick off, Ok said, “The wave season will end in the Mediterranean by the end of May.Thus, this transportation will begin in the region as of that time.”
Ghost town reopens
Noting that the Famagusta trips will take five hours, Ok said the planning for the gradual reopening of Turkish Cyprus’ Varosha (Maraş), after being abandoned as a ghost town for 46 years, is now completed.
“With the opening of Maraş to tourism, our traffic will likely increase more than we expect. That’s why we chose Famagusta. Famagusta is now waiting for Maraş to be reopened to tourism to return to its good old days,” he said.
Varosha was partially reopened to the public on Oct. 8, 2020, after decades as a ghost town. It was abandoned after the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 550 on May 11, 1984, which said the town can only be resettled by its original inhabitants. Located in the TRNC, entry into the town was forbidden except for Turkish army personnel stationed in Turkish Cyprus.
Varosha is a suburb of Famagusta, a city that was Cyprus’ pre-1974 tourism hub thanks to its pristine beaches and modern hotels. After Varosha’s 15,000 Greek Cypriot residents fled in the face of advancing Turkish troops, the area was fenced off to prevent any access until last October when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities announced its reopening.
Boost to religious tourism
Ok went on to say that the project also analyzed all the passenger traffic in the region.
“We determined that there are many people of the Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish faiths who come to Hatay and Gaziantep for religious purposes,” and St. Pierre Church, for example, is very popular in the region.
“It is an important religious center,” he said, as the place is one of the pilgrimage sites for Christians of many denominations.
“We expect 100,000 passengers per seasonal term, which is a span of six months,” Ok said.
Stating that 80-meter mega yachts will likely dock at the new port for customs clearance, Ok noted that they are waiting for international mega yachts in the Mediterranean to arrive in the region.