ANKARA, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Dutch, Belgian and French companies are interested in a massive canal project on the edge of Istanbul, Turkish state media cited Transport Minister Cahit Turhan as saying on Monday, despite the opposition's strong criticism of the project.
President Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party say the 45-km (28-mile) Kanal Istanbul, which should be completed in 2026 and link the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, aims to ease traffic and prevent accidents along the nearby Bosphorus Strait.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, along with environmentalists and urban planners, says the canal fringing Istanbul will turn the city of 15 million people into a "construction site" for years and destroy ecosystems vital for marine animals and migratory birds.
On Monday, Turhan said Turkey would initially earn $1 billion annually from ships passing through the canal, according to state-run Anadolu news agency. He did not provide further details on the international companies he said were interested.
"When 50,000 ships pass through the 68,000-capacity canal, we will have an annual revenue of $5 billion, we will attain these figures down the line," Turhan said, adding that the canal would have up to three times the capacity of the Bosphorus, which also links the Marmara Sea and Black Sea.
Turhan also said the canal project would cost a total of $15 billion, with construction costs around $10 billion.
Imamoglu has said the project would be difficult to finance, wreak environmental havoc and paralyze life in Turkey's biggest city while construction proceeds. Erdogan, however, has said the project will go ahead "whether they like it or not".
Kanal Istanbul is one of the most ambitious of the mega-infrastructure plans undertaken in Erdogan's 17-year rule, and has drawn criticism from environmentalists, petitioning citizens and the city's mayor.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Dominic Evans)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.