The Danube Delta In The Modern Age

The desire to possess the navigable channel and to exploit the richness of the Danube Valley has generated many military conflicts and diplomatic disputes, which have permanently marked the history of the people settled on its banks. During the first half of the 19th century, the dispute for supremacy was waged between Russia, Austria and the Ottoman Empire in the Lower Danube Basin. Through the Peace Treaty of Bucharest (May 28, 1812), Russia took over the Moldavian territory between the Pruth and Dnister Rivers, thus becoming the owner of the left bank of the Chilia Branch and also obtaining the navigation rights for its trade vessels on the entire Lower Danube Sector. The Russian war vessels could sail upstream along the Chilia Branch until the mouth of the Pruth River, the border between Moldavia and Russia.[1] Immediately after the conclusion of the discussions of the assembly of Vienna, Russia continued to pressure the Sublime Porte and, following a protocol signed by its ambassador in Constantinople in 1817 with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Turkey (strengthened by the Akkerman Convention in 1826), also took possession of the Sulina Branch with its best navigable channel.[2] Subsequently, following the Treaty of Adrianople signed on September 14, 1829, Russia also took possession of the third Danube branch – Sf. Gheorghe (therefore, of the entire river delta), while navigation along the Danube River, on the Black Sea and through the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits was set free. Also, the Separate Document regarding Moldavia and Walachia, which was part of the Treaty, besides the provisions referring to the modification of the political status of the two Romanian provinces, included a series of provisions regarding the statute of the Danube downstream: the mouths of the Danube and Snake Island were taken over by Walachia. The left bank of the Sf. Gheorghe Branch remained under the possession of Turkey. Thus, the riverside residents' trade perspectives on the Danube and on the Black Sea were limited by Russia, which having gradually taken possession of the three mouths of the river, intended to favor the Odessa Port to the detriment of the Lower Danube ports.[3] Of the great European powers, the most interested in the Lower Danube traffic at that time was Austria, which combined the economic interests with the political platform. Although Austria had signed conventions with the Ottoman Empire, allowing it unrestricted navigation, under the new conditions Russia compelled the Cabinet of Vienna to negotiate a convention for the navigation on the river. The Convention signed in July 1840 at Saint Petersburg ensured unrestricted navigation on all the rivers on which the two signatory states were residing, for ten years. In this Convention, the Russians undertook to perform maintenance and arrangement works on the Sulina branch and mouth.[4] But in fact, Russia strived to hinder the navigation on the mouths of the Danube, purposefully allowing the mud to block the navigable channel. In 1854, the mud layer from the Sulina mouth reached 2.28 m.[5] The increase of the political influence worried the Governments of Vienna, London and Paris, which were waiting for the right moment to drive away the Russian sovereignty over the Lower Danube and re-open the trade gate to the Black Sea.[6] The Peace Congress of Paris in 1856 which ended the Crimean War marked a new beginning for the Danube maritime sector. The provisions of the Peace Treaty, signed on March 30, 1856 (art. 15-20), established the founding of the European Danube Commission, consisting of the representatives of the seven states, which signed the document – Great Britain, France, Russia, Austria, Turkey, Prussia and Sardinia. In 1857, the powers reunited for the Paris Peace Conference and modified the statute of the Danube Delta, which was given to Turkey, but during the Crimean conflict, it had been occupied by the Austrian army.[7] After the signing of the Treaty of Berlin (1878), Romania was accepted as a full member in the international forum together with the other seven states, Russia became a river resident on the Chilia Branch, while the Romanian state, by taking possession of Dobruja and the Danube Delta, became the only sovereign power on the territory where the Commission acted, independently of the sovereign power. The Danube Commission had to conduct studies to perform the necessary navigation-related works and to set up a non-restriction regime on all the rivers mouths up to Isaccea. Although limited to a period of only two years activity as provided for by the Treaty of Paris, the EDC, through successive extensions of the functioning term, fulfilled its obligations agreed through treaties, agreements, public documents and conventions until 1948, sometimes formally, and sometimes with authority.[8] The mission for which EDC had been created was difficult and it required a long period of time: the removal of the sunk vessels from the navigable channel, the destruction of the sand thresholds located at the exit of the Sulina Branch in the Black Sea and the choosing (of) the best branch in order for it to be arranged in the future. On December 2, 1856, the EDC employed an expert hydraulics engineer, the Englishman Charles Hartley, who, by 1908, as a Chief Engineer, managed the performance of all the works from the Sulina Branch and the building of all the constructions erected by the Commission on the Maritime Danube.[9] In a report drafted in 1857, the British engineer provides an excellent description of the Danube Delta, as a triangle pointed in the West towards the Ceatal Izmail and, which has the base, in the East, on the line of the Black Sea shore, between the Sfantu Gheorghe and the Chilia mouths. This surface equaling 1000 square miles is divided in four islands of different sizes. The Delta population is estimated at 6000 people of which half live in Sulina. Furthermore, his report also supplies the first details regarding the natural obstacles from the Danube navigable channel.[10] Throughout its nine decades of existence, the EDC, through international treaties, conventions, agreements and arrangements, had an anfractuous existence, occupying a major position in guaranteeing unrestricted navigation, which stimulated trading and which was favorable for the economy of the riverside residents. It also undertook broad technical works by correcting the Sulina Branch and consolidating the protection dams from the river mouths of the respective channel into the Black Sea. It built lighthouses, signaled and buoyed the channel according to the international norms, built dams and warping paths, supported the local communities from the Danube Delta helping them to build schools, hospitals and drinking water feed pipes.[11] The EDC also paid very much attention to the performance of works on the Sulina Branch. The works performed throughout almost 30 years (1886-1902) on the Sulina Branch geographically modified it. Generally, the works included the softening of the numerous meanders of the river, the filling in of the old mouths of the meanders with final dams, their clogging with materials resulting from the drainage, the consolidation of the new dams with stone slopes able to resist to the erosions due to water currents. The resulting route was shorter by approximately 22 km. The entire water flow of the channel was directed through the consolidated route and the depths were increased by self-drainage.[12] Thus, the Sulina maritime channel, having a length of 101 km, well integrated in the Delta landscape, is thought to be a true engineering masterpiece, the expression of the great public works from the industrial era. Besides Galati, where the EDC headquarters were located, Sulina represented an important centre for the activity of this international institution. Part of the departments of this international institution functioned here: the Navigation House, the Technical Department, the Sulina Port Authority, one branch of the General Accounting Department.[13] All the arrangements initiated by the Danube Commission at the Sulina mouth allowed the appropriate navigation and the development of the Sulina Port, which became the most important port on the Eastern shore of the Black Sea, and in 1870, following an imperial decree it acquired the free-port (free-zone) status. Based on this status, the imported merchandise meant to be sold in Sulina, and the exported or transitory merchandise, were exempted from custom fees. At the same time, the city suffered from special urban transformations due to the erection of important buildings. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, in the town located near the Danube mouth there were 8 consular representatives, the headquarters of numerous navigation companies, a post office, a telephone line, the EDC palace which overlooked the cliffs, the electrical plant, the water plant, two hospitals, a theatre, a printing house, a hotel and more than 100 shops. From the point of view of ethnicity, Sulina had become a cosmopolitan town.[14] The collaboration between Romania and the EDC, although sometimes tense, brought benefits to the Romanian economy and to all the states which had shown interest in navigation on the river.[15] The taking over by Romania of the EDC functions following the Convention of Sinaia in 1939 led to the founding of the Lower Danube River Administration, which based on Romanian projects improved the hydrotechnical solutions proposed by Hartley.
[1] Stanciu, S., Romania si Comisia Europeana a Dunarii. Diplomatie. Suveranitate. Cooperare internationala (Romania and the European Danube Commission. Diplomacy. Sovereignty. International Cooperation), Galati, 2002, p. 30[2] Dascovici. N., Dunarea noastra (Our Danube), Bucharest, 1921, p. 17[3] La Commission Europeene du Danube et son oeuvre de 1856 a 1931 (The European Danube Commission and its works between 1856 and 1931), Paris, 1931, p. 3[4] Ibidem at 4[5] Stanciu, S., op. cit. at 330[6] La Commission Europeene du Danube… (The European Danube Commission…), op. cit. at 9[7] Ciachir, N., Bercan, Gh., Diplomatia europeana in epoca moderna (European Diplomacy in the Modern Age), Bucharest, 1984, p. 300[8] Stanciu, S., op. cit. at 332[9] Stanciu, S., op. cit. at 58[10] Ibidem at 60[11] Stanciu, S., Duta, A., Tratate, conventii si alte documente referitoare la regimul navigatiei pe Dunarea maritima (Treaties, conventions and other documents referring to the navigation regime on the maritime Danube), 2003, p. 19-20[12] Covacef, P., Cimitirul viu de la Sulina (The Living Cemetery at Sulina), Constanta, 2003, p. 133s[13] La Commission Europeene du Danube… (The European Danube Commission…), op. cit. at 82[14] Ionescu, M. D., Dobrogea in pragul veacului al XX-lea (Dobruja at the beginning of the 20th century), Bucharest, 1904, p. 265[15] Stanciu, S., op. cit. at 335-336

by Mădălina Ciocoiu