Evripidis Stylianidis, Greece's overseas trade minister, at the end of four days of meetings said on Saturday that the deal was a winner for everyone.

"Pipelines are good for the economy, for the environment, and for international development - and that helps peace and stability in the region," he said. 

Oil companies and regional governments are keen to find alternatives to shipping Caspian oil through Turkey's busy Bosporus Strait, already used to transport more than 50 million tons of oil a year.

Dangerous strait

"There is a growing danger of an accident with the concentration of many ships in the strait," Stylianidis said after the meetings in the northeastern city of Komotini, hosted by the Organisation of Black Sea Economic Cooperation, a regional trade forum founded in 1992.

Traditional shipping lanes in the
Bosporus
are crowded 

"Energy via pipelines will be faster and cheaper, and will pose a smaller environmental risk," he said.

In June, the new Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is to start operation, carrying Caspian oil 1760km across Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

Additional projects are planned to link Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis in neighboring Greece and Vlora, Albania.

Problems 'resolved'

Turkey's deputy foreign minister, Ender Arat, said the Baku-Ceyhan project would start on time, despite reports of delays.

"There were some construction delays in Georgia and other problems, but all of this has been resolved," Arat said.
 
He said a proposed pipeline across Turkey from the Black Sea port of Samsun to Ceyhan would be a cheaper option than planned Balkan ventures. But Greece's Stylianidis said most proposed pipeline routes were not competitive, but complementary.

"Every country proposes the route that serves its own interests," he said. "There is a strong will of the governments involved to back the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project."

Rotating presidency

Greece passed the rotating six-month presidency of the Organisation of Black Sea Economic Cooperation to Moldova on Saturday. 

"Energy via pipelines will be faster and cheaper, and will pose a smaller environmental risk"

Evripidis Stylianidis, Greek overseas trade minister

Representatives of the organisation's 12 members -Greece, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldavia, Serbia-Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine - also signed a declaration pledging closer cooperation in areas from energy and tourism to fighting organised crime and ties with the EU.

Part of that cooperation includes plans to connect regional electricity and natural gas networks across to western Europe. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine are already receiving EU assistance with financial aid and advice on market-oriented reforms through the EU's new Neighbourhood Policy programme.