Turkey wants to send another gas drilling ship to reconnaissance trips to the Mediterranean Sea. The “Abdülhamid Han” is to be dispatched by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, the state news agency Anadolu reported.
Destination and route are not yet known. Neighboring Greece in particular is keeping a very close eye on Turkish gas explorations – also because Turkey has not shied away from researching in the past in areas that Athens claims for itself.
Given that relations are at a low ebb, the mission seems particularly delicate.
In 2020, the two countries came to the brink of a military conflict. At that time, the Turkish drilling ship “Oruc Reis” undertook reconnaissance trips south of the island of Rhodes, sometimes escorted by warships.
The Greek Navy was mobilized. The situation calmed down only after the departure of the “Oruc Reis” from the disputed areas.
Territorial disagreements are behind the conflict: Greece accused Turkey of illegally exploring the deposits at the time. The government in Ankara took the position that the waters belonged to the Turkish continental shelf.
The United Nations (UN) Law of the Sea establishes an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for coastal countries. In this 200-mile zone, a state has the sole right to exploit mineral resources. If the coast of another country is closer, the middle line applies.
So Greek islands that are close to the Turkish coast reduce Turkey’s EEZ enormously. Turkey argues – partially based on interpretations of international law – that islands do not have EEZs. Ankara therefore defends the explorations as legitimate.
It is unclear whether the ship actually sails into controversial waters. The Greek government has so far kept a low profile. According to government circles, there has been sufficient comment on this subject and repeated reminders that international law applies in the conflict with the neighboring country and that the sovereignty of each country must be respected.
The same circles also report that the government and military have long since analyzed and played through all possible scenarios for the route of the “Abdülhamid Han”.
If the ship violated Greece’s exclusive economic zone, Athens would react as it did in the summer of 2020. At the same time, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has repeatedly emphasized his willingness to talk. However, if the conflict cannot be settled bilaterally, the issue would have to be clarified before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Turkey, which depends on gas imports, has long felt excluded from planned exploitation of raw materials in the region. Large gas deposits have already been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean. Experts expect more finds. However, whether the exploitation is at all economically compatible and compatible with climate policy goals is highly controversial.