Turkey is due to resume its gas and oil explorations in the Mediterranean and will send its new drilling ship to the region next month, a top official said Wednesday.
Vice President Fuat Oktay’s remarks coincided with the 48th anniversary of the Cyprus Peace Operation, which ended the oppression by Greek groups’ against the Turkish population of the island.
“Our Abdülhamid Han drilling ship is planning to start its operations in the Mediterranean next month,” Vice President Fuat Oktay told a ceremony in Lefkoşa (Nicosia), the capital of the Northern Republic of Turkish Cyprus (TRNC).
The announcement of the drilling operation near the island of Cyprus comes amid tense relations between Ankara and Athens.
NATO members Turkey and Greece have been at odds over a host of issues, ranging from the ethnically split island and maritime boundaries to hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean.
Tensions recently flared over airspace violations and the status of the Aegean islands. Ankara has accused Greece of illegal overflights and secretly setting up military bases on the islands in violation of international agreements.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cut dialogue with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for lobbying against the F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkey during a visit to the U.S. this year.
Erdoğan said Mitsotakis “no longer exists for him” and has refused to meet the Greek leader until he “pulls himself together.”
Tensions have mounted in recent years over the natural resources and jurisdiction in the Mediterranean.
Turkey has for years stressed it wants to see energy as an incentive for political resolution on the island and peace in the wider Mediterranean basin, not as a catalyst for further tensions.
Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims made by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the TRNC.
“The hydrocarbon resources of the Mediterranean are not the toys of the Greek Cypriots,” Oktay said, stressing that they view Turkish Cypriots' rights as their own.
"Neither of the attempts to exclude Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean have been successful and will not succeed," he stressed.
Ankara has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.
In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aiming at Greece's annexation led to Turkey's military intervention as a guarantor power to protect Turkish Cypriots from persecution and violence.
The TRNC was founded in 1983. It has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including a failed 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries – Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.
Turkey officially boasts a fleet of four drilling ships, after Abdülhamid Han, the latest and most advanced of the vessels, arrived in mid-May.
Acquired in November last year, the seventh-generation vessel joins Turkey’s fleet consisting of the Fatih, Kanuni and Yavuz, all sixth-generation ships purchased in recent years.
Part of the national policy to advance technology and use local equipment for energy projects, the latest purchase reinforces Turkey’s intention to add pace to its hydrocarbon exploration activities.
Equipped with advanced technology and capable of operating in harsh sea conditions and even high-pressure reservoirs, Abdülhamid Han will embark on its first mission in the first half of August, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez said earlier this month.
“Five to six alternatives are being discussed for the first mission,” Dönmez said.
Operated by the state energy company Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), the ship can operate at a maximum depth of 3,665 meters (12,024 feet).
The 238-meter-long and 42-meter-wide vessel weighs 68,000 gross tons and has a maximum drilling depth of 12,200 meters. It has a tower height of 104 meters and a crew capacity of 200.