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Turkey's Mediterranean Drilling Campaign Draws Criticism

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The drillship Fatih (file image courtesy Türkiye Petrolleri)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-05-06 15:32:32

Turkey is making moves to begin drilling for gas about 30 nm off the west coast of Cyprus, drawing condemnation from the Cypriot government and expressions of concern from Turkey's NATO allies. 

Cyprus is split between two governing factions - a Greek-aligned, internationally-recognized government in the south (Cyprus) and a Turkish-aligned administration in the north (Northern Cyprus). The Cypriot government claims EEZ rights for the waters off all of the island's shoreline, and it has already issued E&P leases off its southern and eastern coasts. Turkey maintains that Northern Cyprus has a right to benefit from the offshore economy as well, and Turkey's state oil company has purchased its own drillships to conduct an exploration campaign in Cypriot-claimed waters. 

The first of these ships, the Fatih, is now set to begin work off Cyprus' west coast. In response, the government of Cyprus has begun the process of issuing an international arrest warrant for the Fatih's crew, according to undersecretary to the president Vasilis Palmas. Palmas told local media that if the government secures the approval of a Cypriot court, it will send a warrant to Europol, the law enforcement agency for the EU. 

The Turkish decision to begin exploration also drew criticism from the U.S. State Department, which called the move "highly provocative."

"The United States is deeply concerned by Turkey’s announced intentions to begin offshore drilling operations in an area claimed by the Republic of Cyprus as its Exclusive Economic Zone. This step is highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region," the State Department said in a statement Sunday. "We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint."

Turkey's government swiftly responded by asserting that it has a right to drill. "The legitimate rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus over the energy resources of the Eastern Mediterranean are not debatable," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking at a joint press conference with NATO head Jens Stoltenberg on Monday. "We expect NATO to respect Turkey's rights in this process and support us in preventing tensions."

Turkey's second newly-purchased drillship, the Yavuz, is also slated to begin drilling in the Mediterranean once she has completed a maintenance and refit period at a yard in Marmara.