In the eastern Mediterranean. When it comes to new natural gas explorations, the Turkish research vessel Oruç Reis is currently moving in a sea area that is understood to be the so-called exclusive economic zone. From Athens’ point of view, searching in the region is illegal. The EU has also condemned the Turkish actions and asked Ankara to stop them.
The waters off Cyprus are also in the focus of Turkey. It is estimated that there is enough oil and natural gas to be stored around the island of Cyprus to also supply Western Europe. An alliance of states wants to exploit these deposits: In addition to Egypt and Israel, this group includes the two EU countries Greece and Cyprus. When these nations united, they specifically did not include Turkey. But the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for his part, has claims to the oil and gas fields in the so-called Levantine Basin. How serious he is is shown by four research vessels that he has sent over and over to the region over the past year to track down the deposits.
Transponder data, which WirtschaftsWoche has now evaluated with the help of the Greek provider MarineTraffic, shows how closely Turkey has examined the waters around Cyprus in recent months, especially with the two research vessels Barbaros and Oruç Reis (). Both ships can analyze the geophysical nature of the seabed. The Oruç Reis is even equipped with a diving robot that can take samples down to a depth of 1500 meters.
The transponder data also clearly shows that Erdogan’s research vessels repeatedly searched for deposits in the so-called exclusive economic zone, which the EU country Cyprus claims for itself. According to maritime law, this is a strip off the coast that can extend up to 200 nautical miles from the mainland. In the eastern Mediterranean in particular, however, these zones are often difficult to determine. None of the neighboring countries is more than 400 nautical miles from the opposite coast, so that there are regular delimitation conflicts here. In addition, Northern Cyprus is in a difficult situation under international law, which was occupied by Turkish troops in 1974 and where the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was proclaimed in 1983. This is still not recognized by the international community – with the exception of Turkey.
According to the data, both the Oruç Reis and the Barbaros searched not only in the waters of Northern Cyprus, but also in those that belong to the EU. This also applies to the Turkish drill ships Yavuz and Fatih, which have both been active within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus in recent months, as their transponder information shows.
The waters off Cyprus are only part of the problem. The dispute over gas reserves is currently spreading to other regions in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey recently announced that it would have its ships search for oil and gas in the economic zone claimed by Greece in the next few months, for example off the island of Crete. Even if Erdoğan has just announced that he will suspend this exploration for a while, here, as with Cyprus, there are always demarcation problems, especially with the Greek islands off the Turkish coast.
Greece takes the position that the Greek islands form a continental shelf according to international maritime law. “According to this, the bottom of the sea under the Aegean Sea and around Crete belong almost entirely to Greece,” according to an assessment by the Scientific Service in the Bundestag under international law. However, Turkey opposes such a point of view with the argument that geographically it has one of the longest coastlines in the eastern Mediterranean, which according to Turkey justifies a corresponding maritime zone of influence. According to the Turkish view, the Greek islands and rocks off the Turkish coast, some of which can only be seen when the water level is low, lie on the Turkish continental shelf, so that the seabed around these islands can be assigned to the Turkish mainland.
The conflict, which a few days ago even threatened to lead to a military conflict, is made more difficult by the fact that Turkey has not signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is therefore not subject to the international Maritime Tribunal in Hamburg. Greece, for example, is seeking clarification at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. It should also be a question of whether Turkey’s cooperation with Libya, with which Erdoğan also wants to secure the mining rights in the economic zone of the North African country, can endure.
In the dispute between Greece and Turkey over natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean, the EU must speak with one voice more than before and show Turkey a red line, says Günter Seufert, head of the Center for Applied Turkish Studies (CATS) in Berlin. Seufert calls for sanctions against Turkey. .