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Turkey sends new drill ship to eastern Mediterranean

August 9, 2022

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara did not need to "seek permission from anyone" to drill in the region. Greece and Cyprus accuse Turkey of illegally exploring for gas deposits in their territory.

Turkish President Erdogan stands in front of the Abdulhamid Han drilling ship
The Abdulhamid Han, named after an Ottoman sultan, is set to drill for gas in the eastern MediterraneanImage: Turkish Presidency/AP/picture alliance

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday inaugurated the country's newest drilling ship that he said would be sent to an area northwest of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

The vessel, known as the Abdulhamid Han, is Turkey's largest undersea hydrocarbon drill ship. 

What do we know about the mission?

Erdogan said the ship would begin drilling at the Yorukler-1 well, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) off the coast of Gazipasa, in Turkey's southwestern Antalya province.

The country's other drill ships — Fatih, Kanuni and Yavuz — are operating in the Black Sea where Turkey has discovered natural gas reserves. All four ships are named after Ottoman sultans.

Turkey is almost entirely reliant on imports to meet its energy needs. Rising global energy prices have hindered Erdogan's government from reaching its goal of achieving a budget surplus. Turkey imported around 45% of its natural gas last year from Russia.

Erdogan called the Abdulhamid Han a "symbol of Turkey's new vision in the area of energy."

"The sooner we can increase our natural gas and oil resources, which have turned into weapons in the global economic crisis, the more advantage we will gain in this critical process," Turkey's president said.

"It will help us both reduce our energy dependency and close our current account deficit."

Onlookers view the Abdulhamid Han drill ship
The Abdulhamid Han set off from Antalya and is heading towards an area northwest of CyprusImage: ADEM ALTAN/AFP

'We don't need to seek permission from anyone'

While the area initially designated for the ship is not in disputed waters, Erdogan said the Abdulhamid Han will continue to search for gas until it finds it, potentially leading it to areas claimed by Cyprus.

Turkey and Cyprus have for years been embroiled in a dispute over maritime borders, and the EU has imposed sanctions on Ankara over drilling off the island country.

"Our exploration and drilling in the Mediterranean is within our own sovereign dominion," Erdogan said at the inauguration ceremony.

"Neither the puppets nor the ones who hold their strings will be able to prevent us from getting our rights in the Mediterranean," the Turkish president declared, in an apparent reference to Greece, Cyprus and Western allies.

"We don't need to seek permission or ratification from anyone," Erdogan added. "We will take what is ours."

NATO partner Greece also accuses Turkey of illegally exploring for gas deposits off of Greek islands. The Turkish government rejects the accusations, saying that Greek islands near the Turkish coast should not be used when defining maritime borders.

In 2020, Turkey sent a seismic survey ship escorted by warships to an area in the eastern Mediterranean to which Greece claims exclusive rights. Athens later sent its own warships, and the two countries conducted military exercises in a show of force.

sdi/nm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)