Egypt Ratifies Controversial Maritime Boundary Agreement with Greece

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Egypt’s parliament has given its approval to a bilateral agreement setting a demarcation line between the Greek and Egyptian exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece and Egypt reached the deal in early August despite opposition from Turkey, which has laid its own claim to oil and gas exploration rights in the same area. 

Turkey signed a comparable agreement with the recognized government of Libya last year, drawing criticism from other regional claimants and from the European Union. The Turkish-Libyan accord claims to demarcate a short stretch of mutual EEZ boundary to the southeast of Cyprus, while also affirming Turkey’s other disputed EEZ and continental shelf boundary claims. It disregards Greek EEZ claims derived from the shoreline of Crete and the islands of the Aegean, along with the EEZ claims of the internationally-recognized government of Cyprus. In January, EU high representative Josep Borrell warned that in the European Council’s view, the Turkish-Libyan deal “does not comply with the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS] and cannot produce any legal consequences for third States.”

These competing bilateral agreements have been accompanied by a series of Turkish maritime maneuvers designed to demonstrate sovereignty. Last week, Turkey deployed a government-owned seismic survey vessel to waters within Greece’s outer continental shelf claim, escorted by five Turkish Navy surface combatants. The Greek government dispatched its own warships to monitor the flotilla and to instruct it to depart the area. 

The disagreement parallels Turkey’s dispute with Cyprus over oil and gas exploration rights in Cypriot-claimed waters. Turkey asserts that Northern Cyprus (a breakaway state not recognized by other nations) has an EEZ claim overlapping Cypriot-administered waters; it also asserts that its own EEZ and continental shelf overlap Cypriot claims to the west of the island. Turkey has conducted seismic surveys and exploratory drilling in these disputed areas, despite repeated complaints from the EU and competing claimants. 

Earlier this week, the Turkish frigate TCG Kemalreis and the Northern Cyprus Coast Guard escorted the government-owned survey ship Barbaros Hayretten Pasa on a survey mission between Cyprus and Lebanon. The survey area includes two Cypriot-administered E&P lease blocks, according to Turkish outlet Takvim.

On Tuesday, Turkey also dispatched the drillship Yavuz – accompanied by three OSVs and a naval escort – to contested waters southwest of Cyprus. “The escalation of the Turkish provocation is directed against Europe and the response must be escalated accordingly,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias responded Tuesday.

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