In a symbolic step, Turkey has deployed a state-owned seismic survey vessel in waters within the Greek continental shelf. The decision has raised concerns about mounting regional tensions, particularly with the Oruc Reis operating in formation with an escort of five surface fighters from the Turkish Navy while others take place nearby.
Oruc Reis’ voyage is the latest in a longstanding exchange on the right to drill for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey denies the right of Greek-facing Cyprus to drill in Cypriot waters and has previously used naval forces to discourage or block Cyprus-licensed drilling companies. In February 2018, the Italian oil major Eni gave up a Cypriot exploration lease after a protracted confrontation with ships of the Turkish Navy.
Last year Turkey signed a controversial agreement with the recognized Libyan government to delimit maritime traffic without Greek participation. The bilateral agreement is intended to regulate overlapping Libyan and Turkish continental shelf claims in the eastern Mediterranean and give Turkey’s preferred borders legitimacy. The agreement did not recognize any overlap between Greek and Cypriot claimed waters and was condemned by the competing applicants.
Last Thursday, Greece signed a similar bilateral agreement with the Egyptian government, establishing a demarcation line for the EEZ, ignoring Turkey’s demands in the central eastern Mediterranean. This agreement surprised the Turkish government, which immediately broke off negotiations with Greece over the sea borders, declared the Greek-Egyptian agreement null and void and was ready to conduct a seismic survey campaign in the disputed area.
The coastal state overlapping claims diagram is unusually complex, and a Turkish visualization can be found here.
Kathimerini said Oruc Reis and her flotilla traveled more than 50 nautical miles to the Greek continental shelf on Tuesday morning before turning back. Greek officials claimed that the Oruc Reis was unable to obtain high quality seismic data on this trip due to the large number of military escorts nearby.
“Inspired by our glorious history, love, trust and prayer of our noble nation, we are determined and able to protect rights, interests and interests in our blue homeland from now to the end,” said the Turkish Defense Ministry in the social media statement.
In a statement posted on social media on Tuesday, former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on the government to take further steps to secure the Greek continental shelf. “While Turkey is taking illegal measures that completely ignore international law and directly violate our sovereign rights and conduct investigations on the Greek shelf, the obvious obligation of the political leadership is not to send contradicting messages,” said Tsipras. “How this illegal investigation should and can be prevented has been known to our armed forces since October 2018 when they tried it effectively.”
Tsipras pointed to a close interaction between the Greek frigate Nikiforos Fokas, the Turkish frigate TCG Giresun and the Turkish survey ship Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa on October 18, 2018. The interception forced the Barbaros to maneuver.
Barbaros is also currently active in the Eastern Mediterranean: it is conducting another controversial survey off the coast of Cyprus, including parts of the EEZ claimed by Cyprus.