American oil giant ExxonMobil has begun its hunt for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus where it licensed to drill, without any attempt by Turkish warships stationed in the waters to block it, as ships from the US Navy arrived on the island.
Turkish ships earlier forced a research vessel from the Italian company Eni from reaching a block where it has a license – reportedly under the threat of sinking it otherwise – but ExxonMobil’s permit is in a different area of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which Turkey so far has not disputed, despite boasts it wouldn’t be scared off by the American warships which will be conducting exercises.
The Exxon-chartered research vessel Med Surveyor departed Limassol on March 17, The Maritime Executive website reported, and moved into position in the waters even though Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim earlier said his country would also blockade other foreign companies and that “provocative activities … will be met with the appropriate response.” But Turkey had none.
The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima arrived in Limassol on March 19, the site said, bringing units of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and a complement of Harrier II jump-jets, tilt-rotor troop transports and helicopters with the Navy saying its deployment off Cyprus was just routine and coincidental.
“We share the same views of maintaining safety and security of the world’s oceans and sea lanes. Through strengthened relationships, we can . . . work with our partners to maintain a safe, secure and prosperous European region and global security environment,” said Iwo Jima’s Commanding Officer, Capt. Joseph O’Brien.
But there was a warning that American ships would be protected. Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson had been Secretary of State until recently, and met in Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and officials there before being forced out by President Donald Trump after foreign policy differences.
“The 26th MEU remains ready to respond to crisis and deter aggression on a moment’s notice,” said Col. Farrell J. Sullivan, Commanding Officer of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Turkey and Turkish-Cypriots have demanded a share of any potentially lucrative oil and gas finds in Cyprus’ waters and claim part of Cyprus’ EEZ. Turkey has unlawfully occupied the northern third of the island since a 1974 invasion the United States allowed to happen.
ExxonMobil also ignored an earlier warning from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after Eni was driven off and as he said his country would not be deterred nor tested by others who tried to drill off Cyprus.
“We warn those who overstep the mark in Cyprus and the Aegean,” he said. “We recommend that foreign companies don’t allow themselves to be an instrument of issues that surpass their limits and strength, by trusting the Greek Cypriot side . . . Their show of strength lasts only until they see our ships and our planes.” He hasn’t said anything over the US Navy’s presence though, nor ExxonMobil’s operation.