Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia open pipeline

The leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia inaugurated formally a 1,768-kilometer pipeline designed to bring Caspian oil to the markets of Europe.

The long-delayed US$3.9 billion pipeline bypasses Russia and was staunchly supported by the United States as part of a strategy to tap sources of crude outside of the Middle East and draw the Caspian states away from Russia and closer to the West.

The pipeline, which snakes through Azerbaijan, the mountains of Georgia and northern Turkey, crossing hundreds of rivers, was at first derided by many as too expensive and too difficult to build.

At the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan on Thursday, dozens of black-clad Turkish security police gathered near the pipeline, which slopes down a hill toward the port. In the background were seven massive white storage tanks, each capable of holding 1 million barrels of oil, the AP reports.

A long L-shaped jetty juts out into the sea from the oil terminal. At the end of the jetty, the tanker "British Hawthorn" was filling. The tanker, owned by BP PLC, is shipping the oil to Italy.

Officials had expected the pipeline to be completed two years ago but there were repeated delays due to supply and technical difficulties, officials said. The cost of the project also ballooned by over a billion dollars.