Turkey Defends Cyprus Drilling Activity
Turkey has reacted angrily to international criticism of its positioning of a drill ship that belongs to state upstream operator Turkish Petroleum (TPAO) in waters 70 km west of Cyprus. It is within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claimed by the Cypriot government.
The foreign ministry has issued two strongly worded statements rejecting criticism from the European Union (EU) and the US, emphasising that both Turkey and TPAO were acting within their rights.
Responding to criticism by Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign minister, who called on Turkey to "show restraint" and respect for Cyprus' sovereign rights and to refrain from any "illegal" actions, Ankara pointed out that its activities in the east Mediterranean were based on its legitimate rights stemming from international law.
" 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," the ministry said.
In response to criticism from the US Department of State that the drilling was "highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region" the ministry responded by outlining Ankara's position on the delineation of the seabed in the region.
The statement explained out that since 2004 when Cyprus first declared its EEZ Turkey has been pointing out that it has a long Mediterranean coastline and has registered its claim to sovereignty over its continental shelf with the United Nations.
The statement added that the delineation of EEZ is done through bilateral agreements between countries with competing claims and that under international law they cannot be declared unilaterally.
"Delimitation agreements based on equitable principles in accordance with the international law have not yet been concluded among all relevant coastal states in the region… and… attempts of the third parties to act as an international court in determining maritime boundaries is unacceptable," the statement said.
The statement confirmed that Ankara would continue to allow TPAO to drill in areas that it considered within its jurisdiction under licences issued in 2009 and 2012, and that separately it would continue to " protect the continental shelf rights of the Turkish Cypriots as well."
TPAO has been conducting seismic surveying offshore from Cyprus with its survey ship Barbaros for around 18 months, initially to the north west of the island where the Fatih has been moved to and more recently due south of the island in the region bordering Cyprus' exploration blocks 8 and 12, of Cyprus' EEZ, held by Eni and Noble Energy respectively.
In February Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said TPAO would start drilling "south of Cyprus" before the end of March but, speaking to NGW later in the month, TPAO's CEO Melih Han Bilgin confirmed that drilling was planned only for an area west of the island and would not start before summer.
It is unclear why drilling activities are starting earlier but it could be related to Turkey's domestic political agenda, and aimed at drumming up nationalist support for the government in the upcoming rerun of the Istanbul mayoral election, which the governing AK Party narrowly lost to a secular opposition candidate and has since declared void.