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Turkey Condemned For Offshore Drilling in Battle Over Mediterranean Oil and Gas

The Turkish vessel Fatih. (Photo: YouTube)
The Turkish vessel Fatih. (Photo: YouTube)

Turkey contends that its current drilling explorations off the Greek Cyprus waters abide by international law, as they take place in international waters off Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus.  

On Wednesday, the Turkish foreign ministry rejected remarks by Greek and European officials dubbing Turkish drilling for gas and oil off the Greek-Cyprus coast “illegitimate.”

“The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Turkey will press ahead with efforts to safeguard Turkish Cypriots’ rights until they are included in the island’s decision-making mechanisms, including concerning the sharing of the island’s resources,” the pan-Arab daily press, Asharq Al-Awsat, wrote.

A foreign ministry statement also “stressed the importance of non-escalation and commitment to respecting and implementing international law.”

Turkey is attempting to become more energy self-sufficient over concern about potential disruption of its normal energy suppliers. According to a broadcast on the Turkish news station TRT, Turkey imports about 75% of its energy needs. In 2016, over 52% of its gas was supplied by Russia (with Iran and Azerbaijan making up another 30%) and in 2017, over 50% of Turkey’s oil came from Iran.

Dispute in the Mediterranean

Beginning last May, a Turkish ship named Fatih started drilling off the Mediterranean island. Another ship, Yavuz, recently arrived in the east of Cyprus to embark on drilling activities, the foreign ministry added.

In recent years huge quantities of natural gas were discovered in the eastern Mediterranean Sea which has sparked an ownership dispute between Turkey and Cyprus, both of which are members of the European Union.

On Monday, the E.U. called the Turkish drilling an “unacceptable escalation,” warning Ankara against continuing “illegal” drilling activities which could result in imposing sanctions.

The Turkish foreign ministry argues that the E.U. is not an impartial mediator in the Cyprus dispute.

Cyprus is an independent island country in the eastern Mediterranean. The island is split in two: Cyprus, considered the Greek part of the island, is in the south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the Turkish section, is in the north. Since the 1983 declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the island has been in a territorial dispute with Turkey.

Turkey contends that its current exploration off Greek Cyprus’ waters abide by the international law, as they are taking place in international waters off Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus.

Rejecting Turkish claims, Cyprus said earlier this month that it started legal proceedings against three firms accused of supporting what Cyprus calls “illegal Turkish drilling for oil and gas in Cyprus’s waters.”

Cyprus authorities have reportedly issued arrest warrants for the crew of the Fatih for having breached the sovereignty of the Greek island.

US Warning

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department urged the Turkish government on Tuesday to halt drilling operations, after Cyprus protested the arrival of the new Turkish Yavuz ship.

In a statement released by the State Department, Washington voiced deep concern over Turkey’s continued attempts to carry out drilling in the waters off Cyprus.

“We urge Turkish authorities to stop those operations, while we encourage all concerned parties to preserve restraint and refrain from actions that could fuel further tensions,” the statement read.

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Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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