As Exxon prepares to drill off Cyprus, tensions flare with Turkey

EPA/TUMAY BERKIN

Turkish soldiers take part in a military search and rescue exercise with helicopters and ships near Magosa, Cyprus, June 14, 2017.

Turkey, which has opposed Cyprus’ efforts to drill in its EEZ, has not claimed Exxon’s Block 10 until now.


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LIMASSOL, Cyprus – The drillship of ExxonMobil is reportedly expected to arrive in the port of Limassol on November 5 as the US energy giant plans to start drilling in Block 10 in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) south of the island later this month.

Four support vessels are already waiting for the drillship in Limassol port, Kathimerini Cyprus reported on November 1, noting that the drillship called Stena IceMAX operates under UK flag and is, according to Aberdeen based Stena Drilling, the world’s first dynamically positioned, dual mast ice-class drillship with a length of 228 meters.

The Stena IceMAX is a harsh environment DP Class 3 drillship capable of drilling in water depths of up to 3,000 meters.

Turkey, which has opposed Cyprus’ efforts to drill in its EEZ, has not claimed Block 10 until now. However, Ankara reportedly argued that a section of Block 10 is located in an area where Turkish Cypriots also have rights. Turkey’s claims on Cyprus’ EEZ partly overlap with Cyprus’ Blocks 1, 4, 6 and 7. Ankara also reportedly supports the Turkish Cypriots’ claims on Blocks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12 and 13, including within few kilometers from the Aphrodite gas field in Block12.

Asked if Turkey will react to Exxon’s drilling, Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe, “I do not expect Turkey to intervene physically, but it will certainly increase pressure through announcements and verbal threats.”

He reminded that Turkey does not claim Block 10 and the area where drilling is planned by ExxonMobil is not included in the areas claimed by Turkish Cypriots. “However, more recently Turkey announced that all hydrocarbons, no matter where they are found, also belong to Turkish Cypriots and that it intends to safeguard their interests,” he said.

Harassment will continue through Turkish energy exploration ship Barbaros continuing its surveys in Cyprus EEZ, centered around Blocks 4 and 5, the Turkish navy and declaration of Turkish Navtex or marine advisory, Ellinas said.

According to the Cypriot energy expert, it is also likely that the second well the Turkish drilling vessel Fatih plans to drill may be in Cyprus undeclared EEZ to the north or west of the island. “This may be timed to take place in December, while ExxonMobil in drilling in Block 10. Such a move would certainly be very provocative and would increase the ante,” Ellinas said.

Asked if Turkey has the technical capability to drill in the East Mediterranean given that international investors may be hesitant to get involved, Ellinas said, “I believe they have sufficient capability to do it. Certainly the drilling rig is capable.”

Exxon is an American company and Washington is upset that Turkey plans to deploy Russian S-400s missiles on its territory. Asked if that means that the US could issue a fresh warning to Turkey as Cyprus and Greece move ahead with hydrocarbon exploration, Ellinas said the US has been careful to refrain from threats or even warnings.

“So far its position is that Cyprus is entitled to its EEZ and to exploit it, but for the benefit of all Cypriots, asking others to respect this right,” he said.

Ellinas noted, however, that the Navtex just declared by Cyprus for naval exercises including the other countries’ navy covers the area where drilling is planned and the route from Limassol to this location.

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