Détente on the Seafloor

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN-KI MOon MEETS GREEK CYPRIOT LEADER NICOS ANASTASIADES  AND TURKISH CYPRIOT LEADER MUSTAFA AKINCI IN Davos ON 21 January 2016. Credit: UNITED NATIONS, http://162.243.184.203/2016/01/21/the-secretary-general-remarks-for-press-following-meeting-with-mr-nicos-anastasiades-greek-cypriot-leader-and-mr-mustafa-akinci-turkish-cypriot-leader-davos-21-january-2016-as-delivered/.

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN-KI MOon MEETS GREEK CYPRIOT LEADER NICOS ANASTASIADES  AND TURKISH CYPRIOT LEADER MUSTAFA AKINCI IN Davos ON 21 January 2016. Credit: UNITED NATIONS, http://162.243.184.203/2016/01/21/the-secretary-general-remarks-for-press-following-meeting-with-mr-nicos-anastasiades-greek-cypriot-leader-and-mr-mustafa-akinci-turkish-cypriot-leader-davos-21-january-2016-as-delivered/.

A closer look at the reprieve in Turkish/Cypriot maritime relations.

In April 2015, Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz announced that all seismic research activities in the area of Cyprus had ceased following a coordinated effort among all sides concerned. Noting Turkey's opposition to unilateral exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean due to ambiguity regarding the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of countries in the region, Minister Yildiz stated:

"The situation involving Greece, the Greek Cypriot Administration and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was not sustainable. I am convinced that all sides will be showing the necessary care and sensitivity on this issue".

The same move was reportedly endorsed by the authorities of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

It is true that incidents involving exploration vessels in disputed maritime areas around Cyprus had increased in recent years (see e.g. reports here, here and here). It is unclear, however, whether the understanding to pause research activities will actually result in easing the situation, as it was reported that in December 2015 a Limassol-based seismic research vessel, chartered by a U.S. company, was allegedly intercepted by a Turkish frigate.

Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CLICKTHROUGH URL)

Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CLICKTHROUGH URL)

These developments take place amidst a climate of tension in the region, with reported violations by Turkish aircraft of Greek airspace in previous weeks, and of course the escalation of tensions between Russia and Turkey over the same kind of incidents along the Syrian border (recently discussed in The Westphalian); not to speak of the importance of Russian, NATO and other naval forces currently deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

As regards maritime zones off Cyprus, the impression that stems from the overall picture is that the situation has become intricate, especially since the TRNC granted onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling licences to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) in November 2011 and Cyprus granted similar rights in certain areas of its EEZ. The signing by Turkey and the TRNC of an agreement on the delimitation of their continental shelf in 2011 has no doubt further complicated the situation.

One may observe that the issue of maritime zones and sovereignty (or sovereign rights) is not referred to explicitly in recent reports of the UN Secretary-General on the Cyprus issue, nor in statements issued by the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Cyprus. It is probably considered as better handled by technical experts at this stage.

PETRA TOU ROMIOU ('APHRODITE'S ROCK'), IN PAFOS, CYPRUS. CREDIT: By https://www.flickr.com/photos/mhoman (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mhoman/22542891025) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

PETRA TOU ROMIOU ('APHRODITE'S ROCK'), IN PAFOS, CYPRUS. CREDIT: By https://www.flickr.com/photos/mhoman (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mhoman/22542891025) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

That being said, moving towards an equitable and sustainable solution to the issue of the maritime boundaries of Cyprus implies going beyond the expressed principled positions of Turkey, Cyprus and the TRNC (well summarised in this report, issued by the Peace Research Institute Oslo in 2013). The parties to the current negotiations and their international sponsors (as well as even oil and gas investors willing to implement projects in disputed areas) need to juggle a number of legal considerations bearing on the final determination of maritime zones around Cyprus, includingbut not limited tothe issue of sovereignty over natural resources, the international legal status of the TRNC, the availability of binding third-party settlement options, and the opportunity for those countries which are not already parties to UNCLOS to accede to it, with or without reservations[1].

The Centre for International Land and Maritime Boundaries intends to contribute to the clarification of these legal issues, in line with the London Centre of International Law Practice's overall commitment to peace and development through international law and dispute resolution.


[1] On reservations to UNCLOS, governed by Article 309 of the Convention (‘No reservations or exceptions may be made to this Convention unless expressly permitted by other articles of this Convention’), see e.g. Myron H. Nordquist, Shabtai Rosenne and Louis B. Sohn (eds), United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982. A Commentary (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1989), Vol. V, at 212 ff. Art. 298, para. 1 (regarding the right of States and entities under UNCLOS to declare that they exclude the application of the compulsory binding procedures for the settlement of disputes in respect of certain specified categories kinds of disputes).