No Breakthroughs on Cyprus Offshore E&P

L to R: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, European Council President Donald Tusk, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

By The Maritime Executive 03-27-2018 07:48:00

A tense meeting between EU leaders and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ended Monday without a resolution to the question of Cyprus' offshore natural gas resources. Turkey objects to Cypriot efforts to license offshore exploration in areas claimed by the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the de facto government of the northern half of the island. 

When asked about whether the summit had produced any results, European Commission president Donald Tusk could not think of any breakthroughs. "If you are asking me if we achieved some solutions or compromises, my answer is no. What I can say that is that I raised all our concerns, [and] as you know it was a long list," he told media in Varna, Bulgaria after the meeting. 

That list included the Eni and ExxonMobil drilling campaigns off Cyprus, along with the EU's longstanding concerns about Turkey's respect for human rights, the rule of law and freedom of speech. European leaders are also concerned about Turkey's expanding conflict with Kurdish forces in northern Syria. 

After the meeting, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said that Turkey should not infringe upon Cyprus' sovereignty, and he asserted that residents in northern Cyprus would also benefit from oil and gas exploration. "Turkish Cypriots rights are fully safeguarded and Turkey's claims that it aims at their protections is just an excuse to gain control over the gas or become a hub for the distribution of energy to Europe," he said. 

In February, Turkey deployed warships to stop an Eni-chartered drillship from operating in Cyprus' EEZ. On February 23, the Italian oil company abandoned its attempt and sent its drillship to explore a site off western Morocco instead. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim extended a warning to other oil majors on March 7, suggesting that “provocative activities [off Cyprus] will be met with the appropriate response.”

Earlier this month, despite Turkey's warnings, the chartered research vessel Med Surveyor began activities in an ExxonMobil lease block off southwest Cyprus. During the period in which the Med Surveyor was operating off Limassol, the U.S. Maritime Administration received six reports of extensive GPS interference in the same region. The reported disruptions occurred over extended periods of time and resulted in inaccurate GPS positioning or no GPS positioning. MARAD issued an alert to mariners urging caution when transiting the area, but it did not indicate the cause of the disturbance.