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Drilling for Victory – Turkey/Cyprus EEZ dispute

2 December 2013

The decision by Turkey to send its seismic survey vessel into waters offshore Cyprus has further fuelled the territorial dispute over Cyprus’ EEZ.

As shown in the map kindly included in a comment by an LGC reader, an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extends up to 200 miles from a baseline. If there is an overlap of continental shelves then a median line can be agreed upon.

A 12 mile limit was agreed internationally in 1982. Turkey has never signed up to those conventions on the law of the sea. However, it does exercise its right to claim territory under those laws. For example it has claimed territorial water 80 miles off its shores in the Black Sea in order to search for hydrocarbons.

It is likely that the reason Turkey has not signed up to the conventions is the on-going dispute between itself and Greece over territorial rights in the Aegean Sea. Turkey wants to negotiate with Greece over marine territorial rights and claims some of the larger Greek Islands since Turkey says they are part of its continental shelf. Greece, in response, has invited Turkey to take its claims to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and let the courts decide. So far, Turkey has not done so, possibly because it is likely to lose the argument. Hence Turkey and Greece remain in deadlock over the Aegean.

Now to add to the complicated issue of solving the Cyprus problem, comes the issue of sea territory and drilling rights. South Cyprus President Anastasiades has said that hydrocarbon issues are not included in the negotiations. One wonders how he imagines they can be ignored. This particular issue is creating hostility which must affect the talks. (If they ever get off the ground).

The problem between Turkey and Cyprus arises because in 2004, Cyprus claimed its EEZ in accordance with the 1982 Convention which it had ratified. Turkey has not ratified the 1982 Convention and has not claimed its own EEZ but, apparently, claims the freedom of the high seas.

Turkey’s particular objections are that it does not recognise the state (Cyprus) that exercised sovereign power to grant explorative and drilling rights in Cyprus’ EEZ. Sovereignty of Cyprus is, in principle, shared between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Unless there is a solution to the Cyprus problem, Turkey says that the present Greek Cypriot government should not engage in exploiting its EEZ unless and until the Cyprus problem is resolved.

Alper Ali Rıza, QC at Goldsmith Chambers Temple in London speaking at a conference with the Association for Cypriot, Greek and Turkish Affairs at the LSE in 2011 said that international law has long recognised that sovereign coastal states have sovereign rights over areas of the sea adjacent to their territory. However, the consent of all states involved needs to be granted, on the grounds that basic principles of international law say that consent is essential at every level of enforcement. It is not, however, as easy to obtain compliance with international law as it is in the case of national law. It follows that Turkey cannot be compelled to accept either the sovereignty of Cyprus or its EEZ.

Turkey maintains that until the Cyprus problem is solved, the South has no right to explore for hydrocarbons. The South has declared its sovereign right to go ahead and has contracted international energy companies to drill for gas. Tests have proved successful, although the amount of gas is less than first estimated. Drilling will continue; greater discoveries may be made.

The discovery of gas offshore Cyprus was hailed as a life saver following economic devastation and the EU bailout in the South and many believed that such finds would be an incentive, for both sides in Cyprus, to find a solution and re-unite the island. Currently the issue of hydrocarbons and sea territories appear to be more divisive than restorative.

In response to Turkey’s recent seismic survey operation offshore Cyprus, The Souths’ Defence Minister, Photis Photiou has said that Turkey’s 39-year long occupation of Cyprus and Ankara’s constant challenges of the Republic’s sovereign rights do not leave any room for complacency on its part.

Addressing an annual meeting of the Military Officers Association, in Nicosia, Photiou commented that developments in the region and recent hydrocarbon findings in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone require the presence of strong armed forces that will deter any hostile action.

“Constant vigilance and maintaining a strong deterrence force are the price to pay for freedom and peace” the Minister declared.

So currently both the South and Turkey are sabre-rattling.

It is like watching two brothers opening a gift intended for both of them, however unable to share that gift, they argue over who has the most right and end up shredding the present and destroying the future.

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