EU Issues Sanctions Over Turkish Drilling Off Cyprus

The European Union has imposed sanctions against two persons for their involvement in Turkey's offshore drilling activities near the Cyprus coast in the Eastern Mediterranean.

"Today, the [European] Council has placed two persons under restrictive measures in relation to Turkey's unauthorized drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean."

"These persons are responsible for or involved in planning, directing, and implementing offshore hydrocarbon exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean which have not been authorized by the Republic of Cyprus," the European Council said.

"The restrictive measures consist of a travel ban to the EU and an asset freeze. Moreover, EU persons and entities are not allowed to make funds available to the two listed persons."

The European Council did not say who the persons were.

Related: Turkey Expands Drillship Fleet

Turkey has in the past few years been sending seismic vessels and drillships to search for oil and gas in the waters claimed by Cyprus, dismissing Cyprus' and EU claims that it has been violating Cyprus' sovereignty, claiming its drilling rigs were drilling in areas where the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - recognized only by Turkey - had granted licenses to the Turkish national oil company TPAO in 2011.

Reacting to the EU sanctions announced Friday, Turkey labeled the move as "a new example of its biased and unlawful attitude under the pretext of union solidarity."

"This unfair policy against Turkey’s and Turkish Cypriots’ legitimate rights contradicts both the international law and the EU acquis. Whatever decision it takes, it is a futile effort for the EU to dictate the Greek-Greek Cypriot duo’s maximalist maritime boundary claims on Turkey. The EU cannot act as an international court. It cannot portray undelimited and disputed maritime jurisdiction areas as final maritime boundaries," Turkish foreign ministry said.

The ministry further said: "It is most unfortunate to see that the EU still keeps ignoring the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots and has become the hostage of Greek-Greek Cypriot duo’s maximalist claims and policies. The EU should have rather supported dialogue and cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

"The sanction decision will not affect Turkey’s determination to protect its own rights and that of Turkish Cypriots’ in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the contrary, it will further strengthen our resolve," it added.

Third drillship

Turkey has a fleet of two drillships - the Yavuz and the Fatih - and has recently bought a third rig - the Sertao drillship, at an auction for a reported sum of $37.5 million. The drillship is expected to arrive in Turkey in March and begin operations in 2020, Turkey's President Erdogan said last week.

Turkish actions in waters claimed by Cyprus spurred the EU to come up with a framework for restrictive measures. 

The EU in November 2019 set up the framework of sanctions "in response to Turkey's illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean...after the Council had repeatedly expressed its concerns and strongly condemned the drilling activities in various sets of conclusions, including European Council conclusions of 22 March 2018 and 20 June 2019."

Back in February 2018, the Italian oil company Eni was planning to deploy the Saipem 12000 drillship at a block off Cyprus granted to it by the Cypriot government. The drilling never happened as Turkish warships prevented the drillship from reaching the destination. Eni then moved the rig out of the country.

Turkey, one of the largest energy consumers in the region, is stepping up offshore exploration activities, hoping to find hydrocarbons and reduce its imports. According to an OECD note from April 2019, Turkey relies on imports to meet more than 80% of its total energy demand.

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