Turkey’s oil and gas exploration and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean are based on a strong international legal footing, according to energy experts on Thursday.

As part of the country’s hydrocarbon exploration activities, Turkey announced the start of new seismic research activity with the MTA Oruc Reis seismic vessel in the Eastern Mediterranean via NAVTEX (navigational telex) on July 21, 2020.

Using a small islet a few miles distance from Turkey’s coast as justification, the Greek Foreign Ministry alleged the Turkish drillship MTA Oruc Reis had violated its rights in the Eastern Mediterranean continental shelf.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, the head of the Energy Law Research Institute, Suleyman Bosca said the rights of coastal states on continental shelves are a de facto incontestable and elementary right that does not necessitate any declaration.

“According to international agreements, coastal countries have continental shelves, which are defined as 200 nautical miles from its shore,” Bosca explained, adding that maritime jurisdiction zones pertaining to bilateral agreements as well as international customary practices are based on the international law of the sea.

“The agreement between Greece and Italy on maritime boundaries to establish an exclusive economic zone last month was based on and determined by their mainlands, which means Greece implicitly admits that the islands do not have rights to continental shelves and exclusive economic zones,” Bosca explained.

He argued that in the current situation, the islands that belong to Greece are on the natural extension of Turkey and therefore cannot be considered a continental shelf.

“Since the International Court of Justice resolution requires the determination of a continental shelf be respectful of the principle of ‘equitable share’, Greece’s claims that these islands should be considered under its continental shelf are contrary to the ‘equitable share’ principle,” he asserted.

He further contended that Greece’s stance also goes against the Lausanne Peace Treaty that affirms Turkey and Greece should equally benefit from the Aegean Sea.

Bosca said the areas that Turkey is focusing its studies on with the Oruc Reis are sectors where Turkish Petroleum was granted seven licenses, and which fall under the maritime zone pact between Turkey and Libya.

On Feb. 27, Turkey conveyed the agreed geographical coordinates to the United Nations (UN).

Last November, Turkey and Libya signed landmark pacts on military cooperation and boundaries in the Mediterranean.

The maritime pact, effective from Dec. 8, asserted Turkey’s rights in the Eastern Mediterranean in the face of unilateral drilling by the Greek Cypriot administration, while clarifying that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the resources in the area.

“In line with the international agreements and precedents set, Turkey’s actions hold a legal basis, however, Greece’s claims go against international law,” Bosca said.

 “Greece acts in defiance of UNCLOS”

Professor Mehmet Efe Biresselioglu, the head of Sustainable Energy Division and Faculty member of Political Science and International Relations Department of the Izmir University of Economics, similarly attested that the region where the MTA Oruc Reis seismic vessel operates is not within the Greek Exclusive Economic Zone as defined by the UN regulation on continental shelves.

Contesting the Greek contrary declarations, Biresselioglu urged that Greece abide by the principle of ‘equitable sharing’ since it is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Biresselioglu said that in the implementation of this principle, the determinant factors are the distance between the islands and the mainland, the size of the islands and the length of their frontage.

The region off the coast of the Meis (Kastellorizo) Island, where the Oruc Reis drilling vessel is operating is 580 kilometers away from Greece, but only 2 kilometers away from Turkey, he explained.

“The Greek claims over a continental shelf that covers tens of thousands of square kilometers are completely against the ‘equitable share’ principle of the UNCLOS of which Greece is a signatory state,” he said.

Biresselioglu argued Turkey’s stronger claim and said the boundary drawn based on the islands this close to the Turkish mainland is in defiance of Article 300 of the UNCLOS.

“It is impossible to consider it in line with the principle of good faith or acceptable for Turkey, he said, adding that under Article 300, it says that “parties to the convention should fulfill their responsibilities in line with the principle of good faith and should enjoy the rights and liberties provided by the convention in a way that will not make room for any abuse of these rights.”

“Turkey on right side of International Law”

Oguzhan Akyener, the president of the Turkey Energy Strategies & Politics Research Center (TESPAM), argued that it was against international law to define continental shelves based on islets far away from the mainland.

He said the main criteria to delineate continental shelves are frontage lengths, distances from the mainland and location, which he said renders Greek claims null and void under international law.

Akyener emphasized that it is completely incoherent to raise claims of a continental shelf over the islands in question. “There is a high number of internationally legal conventions and resolutions for bilateral dealings between Greece and Italy, England and France, Nicaragua and Colombia, Libya and Malta, Tunisia and Italy, Papua New Guinea and Australia and many other cases as such,” he said.

Turkey relies on treaties like these in presenting and supporting its rightful claims and moreover the necessary initiatives have been taken and declarations have been made at the UN, Akyener said.

He explained that within this framework, a NAVTEX has been broadcast about exploration within a region of 2 kilometers from the Anatolian mainland in accordance with Turkey’s right to explore hydrocarbon resources.

“No matter how uneasy they are with Turkey’s latest move, the Greeks have their hands tied legally, militarily, economically and politically,” he said.

“Turkey will definitely not compromise on its rights nor will allow its powerful neighbors, such as Libya, to be bullied. Turkey is the strongest and legally most righteous state in the regions in every way,” he concluded.

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