Turkish Military Blocks Off Italian Drill Ship in Mediterranean

On February 11th, Cyprus accused the Turkish military of blocking a drill ship exploring for natural gas. The Cypriot-flagged ship was contracted by an Italian oil company, Eni.

A spokesman from Eni said the Saipem 12000 drill ship was heading from an area southwest of Cyprus to an area that was southeast of Cyprus when it was stopped by 6 Turkish military ships and told that it could not proceed any further. The Saipem 12000 was 15 miles away from its target when it was stopped. A spokesman from the Italian foreign ministry confirmed that the Turkish ships did not allow the Saipem to go towards its destination.

Turkey claims certain areas off Cyprus’s maritime zone fall under Turkish jurisdiction, or that of Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus. This zone is known as Block 3 and Turkey claims it as their exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Greek Cypriots also claim this area as part of their EEZ. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Turkey violated international law by blocking the ship.

Turkey issued a navigation telex to reserve an area for military exercises. The area reserved covers the 6th-9th blocks that Cyprus declared as their EEZ. The declaration by Turkey came when the Saipem 12000 arrived in the Mediterranean.

No country other than Turkey recognizes Northern Cyprus as an independent country. Turkish Cypriots run the breakaway state and say that resources around the island belong to them, while Greek Cypriots run Cyprus’s internationally recognized government in southern Cyprus. The United Nations General assembly has repeatedly passed resolutions declaring the independence of Turkey’s northern Cyprus is legally invalid.

Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs said February 11th that exploration of Block 3 was a unilateral move by Greek Cypriots which violated the sovereign rights of Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically divided island.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry said that this is a “blatant violation” by Turkey in regards to international law of Cyprus’s sovereign rights. The European Union (EU) has told Turkey to respect the territories of its member states. In 2004, Cyprus joined the EU but only the south enjoys full benefits.

EU council President Donald Tusk called on Turkey to “avoid threats or actions” and to settle the issue peacefully.

The Saipem 12000 was not the only ship that the Turkish military prevented form approaching the area according to a Cyprus government spokesman, although no details were provided.

This is the first time that Turkey has taken such steps to prevent drilling from occurring in the area. Turkey is showing off their military might and want to be taken seriously throughout the region while seeking to promote its influence in regards to the East Med natural gas pipeline project.

East Med pipeline project is facilitated by Israel, Greece, Italy, and Cyprus. The pipeline is expected to be 2000 km long running from the Levantine Basin in the far east corner of the Mediterranean, through Greece and Italy. It is expected to cost approximately 6 billion euros. On December 5th of 2017 Israel, Cyprus, Italy, and Greece signed a memorandum of understanding for the pipeline project.

The project provides the backdrop for an increased security relationship between the four countries, each of which has its own concerns with Turkish activities in the region.

Turkey’s efforts to assert influence in the Mediterranean comes as part of its response to recent advancements of the East Med pipeline project. The next advancement for the East Med pipeline project will be the signing of an intergovernmental agreement between the four countries in the spring of 2018 in Crete.