Sections of 24 blocks outlined in the Turkish Government Gazette on May 30 stemming from the contentious maritime borders agreement signed last November between Turkey and the Tripoli-based government in Libya come within or beyond 6 nautical miles of the coasts of eastern Crete, Kasos, Karpathos and Rhodes, and overlap the Greek continental shelf. While Ankara has not designated a block off the island of Kastellorizo, it is clear from the way the blocks are designed that Ankara plans to challenge Greece’s sovereignty in the area by reiterating its position that the Greek islands cannot claim a continental shelf but just 6 nautical miles of territorial waters.
The outline of the 24 blocks was published in the Gazette preparatory to the consignment of those blocks to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO). The publication also included requests by TPAO to conduct hydrocarbon exploration at all the western-most lots shown in the outline, in the vicinity of the Greek islands.
According to sources with knowledge of the issue, the move to publish the outline in the Government Gazette demonstrates Turkey’s determination to proceed with the implementation of the borders deal with Libya, even though the map of the coordinates it submitted to the United Nations’ Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, even though the map has not been posted by the UN.
Ankara’s next step will be to issue navigational telexes reserving the areas where it plans to conduct hydrocarbon exploration, with the ultimate goal of drilling for natural gas and oil.
Athens has not been taken by surprise by Ankara’s moves, though the speed at which they appear to be proceeding is giving cause for concern, according to diplomatic sources, which attribute Turkey’s apparent confidence to recent developments in Libya, where the internationally recognized Government of National Accord has been strengthening its hold on Tripoli against an offensive by the rival rebel commander Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey’s recent activities outline the worst-case scenario from a Greek perspective as Athens has been working on the possibility of Turkey launching seismic research in the area south of Crete that falls within Libyan jurisdiction under the November agreement. However, the outlining of exploration blocks west of the 28th meridian points to Ankara’s intention to proceed rapidly with research near the Greek islands, without waiting for the UN to complete its technical deliberations.