Turkey Deploys Military to Escort Controversial Drilling Campaign

Image courtesy T.C. Milli Savunma Bakanligi

Published Jul 23, 2019 4:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

Turkey has deployed its armed forces to accompany its controversial offshore drilling campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish Navy said in a social media post Tuesday that it is deploying warships, helicopters and UAVs to patrol the areas around its drillships, and it released a video showing the assets it has mobilized in the region. 

Two Turkish-operated drillships, the Fatih and Yavuz, are operating in the Cypriot EEZ without authorization, despite protests from Cyprus and steep financial penalties levied by the EU. The Fatih began drilling off Cyprus' west coast in May and the Yavuz arrived off the island's northeast tip earlier this month.

Cyprus is split between two administrations - the Republic of Cyprus (commonly known as Cyprus), aligned with Greece, and the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, aligned with Turkey. The Cypriot government in Nicosia lays claim to the entire island, its territorial seas and its EEZ, and it is recognized by the international community as the legitimate government of the island. Cyprus has initiated a formal offshore E&P lease auction program, which has attracted participation from international oil majors like Eni and ExxonMobil. 

Turkey claims that the Cypriot government should share the benefits of offshore exploration with Northern Cyprus, and in the absence of a joint agreement, it has begun its own drilling campaign on Northern Cyprus' behalf. The EU has strenuously protested Turkey's unilateral action, and it recently suspended high-level diplomatic contacts and cut back on financial assistance for Ankara in response. It has also called on the European Investment Bank to review lending to Turkey.

Turkey has largely dismissed the EU's diplomatic penalties as "worthless," arguing that the EU needs its cooperation to combat migration and will have to return to the table. “If you take such decisions against Turkey, we will increase our activities. We have three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, [and we will] send a fourth," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier this month. 

On Monday, Cavusoglu walked back the threat of a fourth vessel and said that Turkey is interested in working out a comprehensive regional deal on the Eastern Mediterranean. The Greek government would be an essential partner in any negotiations towards a comprehensive agreement, but Greek leaders have insisted that a halt to Turkey's unauthorized drilling operations would be a necessary precondition for talks.