Despite Threats, ExxonMobil Moves Ahead Off Cyprus

The Ocean Investigator, one of two vessels chartered for Exxon's Cyprus campaign (file image)

Published Mar 14, 2018 8:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two Exxon-chartered vessels are due in Cyprus this week to begin hydrocarbon exploration in offshore Block 10, an area with high potential in the southwestern corner of the Cypriot EEZ. In addition to its geological suitability, its location may also be politically advantageous: it is far from Turkish and Turkish Cypriot claims. 

In February, Turkish warships intercepted the Eni-chartered drillship Saipem 12000 near Block 3, in the eastern part of Cyprus' EEZ. The Republic of Cyprus conducted the auction that gave Eni exploration rights, but Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus also lay claim to certain areas in the auction round, including Block 3. 

The Turkish vessels threatened to use force to halt the Saipem 12000's commercial voyage, according to Cypriot minister of energy Giorgos Lakkotrypis. Despite diplomatic complaints from all quarters, Turkish forces kept the drillship out of her work area in Cypriot waters for weeks, and Eni eventually ordered her to move on to other exploration assignments. 

“We warn those who overstep the mark in Cyprus and the Aegean,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in mid-February. "We recommend that foreign companies don't allow themselves to be an instrument of issues that surpass their limits and strength, by trusting the Greek Cypriot side . . . Their show of strength lasts only until they see our ships and our planes." 

Erdogan's remarks could be interpreted to threaten exploration in Cyprus' waters in general, but Exxon will be working far from Block 3. U.S. ambassador to Cyprus Kathleen Doherty said Wednesday that she does not expect any issues with Turkey over Exxon's exploration campaign, and she suggested that Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus would do well to reunite the island and share any resources that might be found in its waters. 

"The United States has consistently reiterated its support for the Republic of Cyprus’ right to develop its resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone,” she said. "At the same time, we have noted that we believe the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement."