Offshore tensions between Cyprus and Turkey increase

Cyprus has confirmed that it has issued arrest warrants for crewmembers of Turkish drillship Fatih, which was currently operating within the Cypriot EEZ area. Turkey disputes this maritime boundary and claims that it is operating on its own continental shelf area.

A Cypriot official told Reuters that “a double digit number” of Turkish mariners aboard the Fatih were wanted by Cyprus law enforcement for their involvement in the venture. The Turkish Foreign Ministry denounced the warrants as “null and void” and threatened to carry out a “necessary response” if any of the Fatih’s crewmembers are arrested.

The warrants were the latest move in the long-running dispute between Cyprus and Turkey over drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Cypriot government claims EEZ rights for the waters off all of the island’s shoreline, and it has already issued E&P leases off its southern and eastern coasts. Contrarily, Turkey maintains that Northern Cyprus, a separate state formed after the 1974 war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots that is recognized only by Turkey, also had a right to benefit from the offshore economy. Turkey’s state oil company has purchased two drillships to conduct explorations in waters claimed by Cyprus.

The first of those two drillships – the Fatih – recently began drilling about 30nm off the west coast of Cyprus. The US State Department called the move “highly provocative.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that “we expect NATO to respect Turkey’s rights in this process and support us in preventing tensions.”

Heads of EU Mediterranean states, meeting in Malta, offered full support on Friday for Cyprus. French president Emmanuel Macron said that “Turkey must stop its illegal activities in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus”.