Concerns over Turkey’s drilling operations offshore Cyprus

The United States, the European Union, and Egypt have all expressed their concerns over Turkey’s plans for offshore drilling operations in Cypriot-claimed waters. However, Turkey claims that its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean region are based on its legitimate rights stemming from international law.

Fatih Drillship / Image source: Turkish Petroleum

Reuters reported on Monday, citing Turkish media, that a Turkish ship had started drilling in areas for which northern Cypriot authorities had issued a permit, a move likely to stoke tensions with Cyprus and Greece. Turkish media cited Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as the source of the statement.

According to Reuters, Turkey and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government have overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas research in the eastern Mediterranean.

The government of Cyprus issued a statement on Saturday, May 4 condemning Turkey’s activities within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus.

In the statement, the government said: “The Government of Cyprus strongly condemns the conduct by Turkey of hydrocarbon exploration drilling operations within the Exclusive Economic Zone/continental shelf of the Republic of Cyprus. This provocative action by Turkey constitutes a flagrant violation of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus according to International and European Union Law. At the same time, it serves to reveal the real intentions of Ankara in relation to the Cyprus question and explains why Turkey has rejected the proposal for an informal meeting, in a ‘Crans Montana format’, to discuss the Cyprus problem.”

The statement further said: “Fully aware of Turkey’s intentions, the Republic of Cyprus has taken and continues to take all necessary measures to address the situation, in its capacity as a Member State of the European Union and the United Nations and as a State that plays an active role in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“It was in this vein that the European Council, in its Conclusions of March 2018, called on Turkey “to cease these illegal actions and respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources in accordance with EU and International Law”, recalling at the same time “Turkey’s obligation to respect International Law and good neighbourly relations, and normalize relations with all EU Member States including the Republic of Cyprus”.

“Furthermore, in the framework of the EU – Turkey Association Council of March 2019, the EU and its 28 Member States called on Turkey to “refrain from any such illegal actions to which the EU would respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus”.

“In light of the above, action is already being undertaken at a legal, political and diplomatic level, utilizing all possibilities, and in particular within the framework of the European Union.


Mogherini calls on Turkey to show restraint


High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the EU Commission, Federica Mogherini, on Saturday expressed her concern over Turkey’s offshore drilling plans.

Mogherini said: “We express grave concern over Turkey’s announced intention to carry out drilling activities within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus. In March 2018, the European Council strongly condemned Turkey’s continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

She added: “In this context, we urgently call on Turkey to show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus in its exclusive economic zone and refrain from any such illegal action to which the European Union will respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus.”


Turkey rejects Mogherini statement 


In a statement on Saturday, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Mogherini: “We reject the statement made today (4 May 2019) by Ms. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, regarding our hydrocarbon exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey’s hydrocarbon related activities in the Eastern Mediterranean region are based on its legitimate rights stemming from international law. As we previously stressed on many occasions, having the longest coastal line in the region, we will protect our own rights and interests within our continental shelf, as well as those of the Turkish Cypriots around the Cyprus Island. To date Turkey has not refrained from taking the necessary steps in this context, and will not do so in the future.

“In fact, it is the Greek Cypriot Administration which has not abstained from irresponsibly jeopardizing the security and stability of the Eastern Mediterranean region, by disregarding the inalienable rights of the Turkish Cypriots, who are the co-owners of the Cyprus Island, on the natural resources, refusing every proposal of cooperation and insisting on its unilateral activities in the region despite all our warnings.

“It will be a reasonable approach and will prevent further instability in the region, that all other actors outside the region acknowledge the fact that Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus cannot be excluded from the energy equation in the Eastern Mediterranean, and they should stop providing unconditional support to the Greek Cypriot Administration.

“Furthermore, those who have not taken any steps towards the resolution of this issue for years do not have the right to give advice to us.


Egypt also warns Turkey against drilling 


In addition, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also warned Turkey against drilling activities off Cyprus. In a statement on Saturday the ministry said it was following with interest and concern the ongoing developments pertaining to the announced intentions of Turkey to start drilling activities in a maritime area west of the Republic of Cyprus.

The statement warned of the repercussions of any unilateral measures on the security and stability of the Eastern Mediterranean region, stressing that any actions by states in the region need to abide by the rules of international law and its provisions.​


U.S. deeply concerned 


In a statement on Sunday, May 5 the U.S. State Department spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus, said: “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.”

The spokesperson added: “This step is highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint.”

It is worth reminding that Turkey’s first drillship Fatih last October left Antalya on its way to a location in the Mediterranean Sea where it was expected to start searching for oil and gas.

Reuters said on Monday that Turkey’s second ship that it had purchased would operate in the Black Sea, but was diverted to the Cyprus area.

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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