Kathimerini Greece Newsroom
By Manolis Kostidis & Vassilis Nedos
The navigation warning (Navtex) issued by Greece Saturday expanding the area of seismic surveys for oil and natural gas deposits off the coast of Crete was in response to a request by US oil firm ExxonMobil, which has been granted exploration rights, but also serves a geopolitical purpose.
Athens is wary of a possible move by the Libyan government in Tripoli granting a permit to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) to explore southwest of Crete. Also, by setting the new area’s southern limit on the median line between Greece and Libya, it reminds Libya it is ready to resume negotiations to delimit the two countries’ respective maritime jurisdiction zones.
Greece considers it likely that both Turkey and the Tripoli administration might accuse it of granting rights in a disputed area
The negotiations between Greece and Libya had been interrupted in 2011, since Libya plunged into civil war following the overthrow of longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi, with a unified government still proving elusive.
The Tripoli-based government signed an agreement with Turkey in 2019 delimiting the countries’ maritime zones even though the two countries are not neighbors; Egypt and Greece stand between them. Earlier this year, Turkey and the Tripoli government signed a memorandum based on the earlier agreement granting Turkey exploration rights on land and at sea. Both deals were denounced by Greece and are widely considered invalid, including by Libya’s Parliament, a rival center of power based in the country’s east.
Greece considers it likely that both Turkey and the Tripoli administration might accuse it of granting rights in a disputed area; after all, both agreements they have signed are based on Turkey’s claims that islands, such as Crete, cannot have a continental shelf and, therefore, an exclusive economic zone.
In Turkey itself, analysts say that the exploration in the expanded zone delineated by the new Navtex (11,000 square kilometers versus 6,500 sq.km. reserved on November 7) does not affect Turkish interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
But, they add, if Tripoli chooses to protest, and maybe issue its own Navtex, Turkey will support it by sending research vessels to the area. The move, if it happens, would ratchet up tensions with Greece.