Türkiye on Tuesday sent off its newest drilling ship to the Mediterranean Sea to search for oil and natural gas in an area that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stressed is within the country’s sovereign territory.
The latest and the most advanced drilling vessel in the country’s fleet, Abdülhamid Han, is “a symbol of Türkiye’s new vision” in the field of energy, Erdoğan said, addressing the ceremony to launch the ship in the southern province of Mersin.
Owned and operated by the state energy company Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), the ultra-deepwater drillship heads for a spot that is 55 kilometers (34.18 miles) off the Gazipaşa region of Türkiye’s southern province of Antalya, Erdoğan said.
The announcement of the exploration, aimed at contributing to Türkiye’s efforts to wean off its dependence on energy imports, comes amid tense relations between Ankara and Athens.
NATO members Türkiye and Greece have been at odds over a host of issues, ranging from the ethnically split island of Cyprus and maritime boundaries to hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean.
Erdoğan brushed aside Greek and Greek Cypriot objections to such drilling missions and said Türkiye has the right to search for energy in its own areas.
“Neither the puppets nor the ones who hold their strings will be able to prevent us from getting our rights in the Mediterranean,” he said, in an apparent reference to Greece and Greek Cyprus administration on the one hand, and their Western allies on the other.
The area where Abdülhamid Han is set to run its first exploration works is outside waters claimed by the Greek Cypriot administration.
“Our exploration and drilling in the Mediterranean is within our own sovereign dominion,” Erdoğan stressed. “We don’t need to seek permission or ratification from anyone for this.”
“Our ship will not stop, it will go to other wells and continue to search (for gas) until it finds it,” he defiantly said.
Türkiye has a “rare” drilling fleet by world standards, Erdoğan noted, consisting of the Fatih, Kanuni, Yavuz and Abdülhamid Han. All four ships are named after Ottoman sultans.
“Now, with four drilling ships and two seismic research ships, we are also very well engaged in this field (natural gas exploration),” he said.
Equipped with seventh-generation advanced technology, Abdülhamid Han weighs 68,000 gross tons and can drill down more than 12,000 meters (39,000 feet).
The 238-meter-long and 42-meter-wide vessel is the largest and most technologically advanced deep sea drilling ship in Türkiye’s survey and exploration fleet.
It is one of the five seventh-generation drilling ships globally. It has a tower height of 104 meters and a crew capacity of 200.
Abdülhamid Han’s mission in the Eastern Mediterranean will last two months, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez said.
“The wells drilled will provide confirmation of our previous seismic data and a better understanding of underground structures,” Dönmez noted.
Türkiye has not sent a vessel to the Eastern Mediterranean since the withdrawal of the Yavuz drillship in September 2020.
Black Sea works on schedule
The Yavuz, Fatih and Kanuni drilling ships have been operating in the Black Sea, where Türkiye discovered a natural gas reserve with a volume of 540 billion cubic meters (bcm).
Yavuz and Kanuni will continue operations in the region in preparation for the extraction of the gas, Dönmez said.
Located around 150 kilometers off the country’s coast in the Black Sea, the gas field is home to Türkiye’s largest-ever natural gas discovery.
The first pipes for the underwater pipeline network that will transport gas onshore were laid in June. The first pipeline section was connected to the seabed from the port of Filyos in the northern province of Zonguldak.
Dönmez confirmed that operations to extract the Black Sea gas are on schedule with the ongoing construction of an onshore gas processing facility and the completion of 5 kilometers of shallow sea pipelaying.
The government says the pipeline that will connect the wells in the Sakarya gas field to the gas processing facility will start pumping the gas as of the first quarter of 2023.
Approximately 60% of the pipelaying on the 170-kilometer-long deep seabed has finished as part of the target to complete pipelaying works in the deep sea next month.
Türkiye is still highly dependent on imports to cover its energy needs, whose price has rocketed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Last year, 45% of the gas used in Türkiye came from Russia and the rest from Iran and Azerbaijan.
Türkiye’s annual gas consumption has risen from 48 billion cubic meters in 2020 to a record 60 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach 62 billion-63 billion this year, according to official figures.
“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,” Erdoğan said.
“It will help us both reduce our energy dependency and close our current account deficit.”