A Turkish seismic exploration vessel has reached its new destination to conduct exploratory drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean in an area between Greece and the island of Cyprus, the energy and natural resources minister said Monday, as he reiterated Turkey’s determination to protect its interests in the region. Meanwhile, the Greek prime minister said he will convene the national security council over Turkey’s announcement.
"Our MTA Oruç Reis seismic research vessel reached the operation area after departing from Antalya, for its new mission in the Mediterranean. 83 million Turkish people support you, Oruç reis," Dönmez wrote on Twitter.
"Our efforts in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea for Turkey's energy independence will continue uninterrupted," Dönmez added.
Seismic surveys are part of the preparatory work for potential hydrocarbon exploration.
In a Navtex, or international maritime safety message, issued earlier on Monday, Turkey announced that MTA Oruç Reis would conduct seismic exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean from Monday to Aug. 23.
Oruç Reis will continue its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean with the Cengiz Han and Ataman vessels.
The seismic vessel was built by Turkish engineers in a domestic shipyard in Istanbul.
The vessel can sail non-stop for 35 days.
The ship has a helicopter pad, hydrography and oceanography features and the ability to scan the sea floor up to a depth of 15,000 meters (9.32 miles).
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration's unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the natural resources in the area.
Turkey's plans for Oruç Reis to search for hydrocarbons off the island of Kastellorizo (Megisti-Meis) had infuriated Athens last month.
Then, Ankara agreed to suspend "for a while" the search off the Greek island depending on the outcome of negotiations with Athens and European Union heavyweight Germany.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday said the Greek side failed to keep promises and said another vessel, the Barbaros Hayrettin, had also been sent to the East Mediterranean.
Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hami Aksoy also said Monday that Turkey's military presence in the area was not designed to escalate tensions but was aimed only for defense if deemed necessary.
Aksoy once again underlined that Greece’s objections regarding Turkish seismic activities had no legal basis.
He said that the previous halting decision came after a meeting with Berlin aimed at keeping dialogue channels open, however, Athens did not respond to this attempt but rather signed a “pirate agreement” with Egypt on Aug. 6.
“With this agreement, the continental shelf of both our country and that of Libya’s in the Eastern Mediterranean has been violated. Following this development, our ship, the Oruç Reis, launched seismic research that was previously in the planning phase, as of today. There is no legal basis for Greece to object to our activities,” he said, noting that using the Greek islands in the region, including Meis to intercept Turkey's continental shelf was contrary to the basic principle of equitable principles of international law.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg Monday called for the countries to act within the frame of international law following a phone call with the Greek prime minister.
“I spoke with the Greek prime minister today on the situation in the eastern Mediterranean. The situation must be resolved in the spirit of Allied solidarity and in accordance with international law,” he wrote in a Twitter statement.
Turkey has consistently objected to the Greek Cypriot administration's unilateral drilling activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, during which it commissioned American, French and Italian energy companies like Exxon, Total and ENI.
The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power.
Since the discovery of significant gas reserves in the region a decade ago, countries have been engaged in renewed disputes over maritime borders, while international law presents few remedies. The deepening rift between Turkey and Greece has surfaced with Turkey’s decision to enhance energy exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and the deal Ankara made with Libya’s official government.
Turkish drilling procedures in the Eastern Mediterranean fall under two categories: the licensed areas issued by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) to Turkey and the licensed areas that are issued by Turkey to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) – Turkey's national oil company.
The country has so far completed six drilling studies in the region, while the drilling vessel Yavuz is conducting a seventh in the Selçuklu-1 zone to the west of the island of Cyprus.
Last week, Athens and Cairo signed an agreement to set up an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the region.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the "so-called maritime deal" was "null and void."
Egypt and Greece had been in talks for a while after Turkey and Libya on Nov. 27, 2019, signed two separate pacts – one on military cooperation and the other on maritime boundaries of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The agreement between Turkey and Libya determined the sovereignty area based on international law as 186,000 square kilometers (71,815 square miles). Thus, the possibility of making an EEZ agreement between Greece and Egypt, and Greece and Greek Cyprus, was eliminated.
The maritime pact asserted Turkey’s rights in the Eastern Mediterranean in the face of unilateral drilling by the Greek Cypriot administration, clarifying that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also had rights to the resources in the area. The pact took effect on Dec. 8.
Greek PM to convene security council after Turkey’s announcement
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis convened the government’s national security council after Turkey announced its research vessel would resume exploratory drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean in an area between Cyprus and Greece.
The council, which includes the ministers of foreign affairs and defense, met at noon Monday.
A senior Greek minister said that navy ships were monitoring the Turkish seismic research ship Oruç Reis.
"We are in complete political and operational readiness," Minister of State George Gerapetritis said on state TV ERT.
"Most of the fleet is ready to be deployed wherever necessary," he said.
Mitsotakis' office also said the prime minister had spoken to EU Council President Charles Michel on the issue, and would later speak to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Meanwhile, the Greek foreign ministry said that Turkey’s decision to deploy seismic research ship constituted a “new serious escalation.”
The Greek ministry said Athens “will not accept any blackmail” and “will defend its sovereignty and its sovereign rights."
The announcement came after PM Mitsotakis conferred with military chiefs and his foreign minister.
NATO allies and neighbors Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over a wide variety of issues, including sea boundaries, and have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s. Recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the East Mediterranean have led to a spike in tension.
Egypt-Greece deal end of German-led negotiations, presidential spokesman says
In a television interview late Sunday, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalın said Turkey and Greece had been holding talks in Berlin for 2½ months and were on the verge of issuing a joint statement when the Greek-Egyptian agreement emerged.
“The moment the agreement with Egypt was announced, we received a clear instruction from our president: ‘You are halting the talks. Inform the Germans and the Greeks, we are not pressing ahead with the negotiations,” Kalın told CNN-Türk television.
“This is another move to keep Turkey out of the Eastern Mediterranean and to restrict it to the Gulf of Antalya,” Kalın said.
Kalın said Turkey is in favor of resolving the dispute through dialogue.
“But it is the Greek side that disrupted the agreement and broke the trust,” he said.
Meanwhile, Egyptian opposition figures living abroad have said they oppose the Greece-Egypt maritime deal and consider it null and void.
A statement released by opposition figures including Tarek al-Zumar, the former chairman of the Building and Development Party and Osama Rushdi, said the agreement is null and void.
The statement noted that the agreement means Egypt will have to forsake not only the revenue and natural resources in its EEZ but also its change to utilize resources in other regions. It also said that the agreement does not comply with international maritime law.
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