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Turkey challenges Greece, Cyprus again over East Med hydrocarbon exploration

Turkey has been trying to create even more 'grey zones', but these affect mostly the Aegean and the seas between the Aegean, Crete, Cyprus and Egypt.

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Echoing his warnings against Cyprus’ energy exploration, Turkey Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said October 24 his country will not allow Greece to interfere in its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Anadolu Agency quoted Akar as saying that no project was possible in the East Med without the involvement of Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots.

His comments come a day after Turkey warned Greece that if it extends its territorial waters in the Aegean from 6 to 12 nautical miles it would be a cause for war. The planned measure would not affect the Aegean region, off Greece’s eastern and southern coasts. “It is not possible to tolerate steps where there is no bilateral agreement on the Aegean where the two countries have mutual shores,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.

Greece has responded that it would decide when and how it exercises its sovereign rights. “The extension of the coastal zone is a legal and inalienable sovereign right of Greece, in accordance with international law,” Reuters quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying. “The relevant decision for an extension is exclusively up to Greece, which has the right to extend its territorial waters whenever, and as, it sees fit.”

Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas reminded that the conflicts between Greece and Turkey are many and varied involving territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, airspace, demilitarisation. “Twice the two countries came near war as a result of these disputes, in 1987 and in 1996,” he told New Europe on October 26. “More recently Turkey has been trying to create even more ‘grey zones’, but these affect mostly the Aegean and the seas between the Aegean, Crete, Cyprus and Egypt,” he said, adding that these do not affect Greece’s plans for hydrocarbon exploration and development in the Ionian and south and west of Crete – disputes do not extend to these areas.

However, Ellinas said, if Greece takes any measures to change the current situation in areas which Turkey considers to be disputed it may intervene.

Asked if Ankara is trying to connect Cyprus’ offshore drilling with Greece’s exploration plans and Turkey’s own plans to also explore for hydrocarbons, Ellinas said, “This has happened already. Turkey is using the same interpretation of continental shelf rights in its claims of areas around Cyprus as it does with Greek islands.”

The Cyprus-based expert reminded that in the first place Turkey does not recognize the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). “Its position is that the rights of mainland continental shelves take precedence over the rights of islands when it comes to determining offshore economic zones,” he told New Europe.

As a result, according to Turkey, Cyprus is entitled to its 12 miles territorial waters, but most of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), roughly to the west of the 32° meridian, belongs to Turkey, Ellinas said, adding that the rest is mostly claimed by Turkish Cypriots. “More recently Turkey extended its intervention rights to the whole of Cyprus’ EEZ, saying that it is safeguarding Turkish Cypriot interests which, according to Turkey, extend to the complete Cypriot EEZ,” he said.

Asked if this could this lead to a conflict in the Aegean Sea, Ellinas said, “Yes it could, when it comes to the disputes I mentioned above. However, it does not affect international companies with licenses in the Ionian, south and west of Crete.”

Ellinas stressed that international companies operating in Cyprus, and their countries, recognize the rights of Cyprus to its declared EEZ. He noted that the companies’ position is that their licenses have been legally awarded and they will continue with their plans to explore and exploit their licensed offshore blocks.

 

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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