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Greece Wants to Delineate Maritime Zones, Minister Says

Greece wants to delineate exclusive maritime economic zones, while proceeding with the exploration and exploitation of potential offshore oil and natural gas deposits, Energy Minister George Papaconstantinou said.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea allows maritime states to establish areas, known as EEZs, which extend from the sea bed to the surface and as far out as 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers, 230 miles) from their territorial waters limit. These states have the right to natural resources in the area, including oil and gas.

“In no way is Greece willing to not exercise all its sovereign rights and these include EEZs,” Papaconstantinou said in a Feb. 29 interview in Athens. “EEZs are a tool Greece intends to use, in line with its overall policy.”

Any move by Greece to try to establish an EEZ in the Aegean Sea could raise objections from neighboring Turkey. The two countries have yet to agree on the size of their territorial waters and on the delimitation of the continental shelf between the two states. Several Greek islands in the eastern Aegean lie only 3 nautical miles from the Turkish coast.

“For Mediterranean-area countries, EEZs will always have areas of overlap which means you need to demarcate them within the context of the international Law of the Sea,” Papaconstantinou said.

‘Possible Settlement’

Turkey believes “a possible settlement on the Aegean issues will only be functional and lasting if it is built on a common denominator, that is respecting fundamental rights and legitimate interests of both countries,” according to a statement on the Turkish’s Foreign Ministry’s website.

“We will proceed cautiously to negotiate delimitation of maritime zones with our neighbors and will have these negotiations, while at the same time moving forward with seismic surveys and hydrocarbon exploration,” Papaconstantinou said. “These talks will involve all the countries where there are potential overlaps.”

Greece invited investors on Jan. 2 to bid to explore and exploit hydrocarbon reserves in two offshore blocks and one on land. The country received applications from eight companies on March 2 to conduct seismic surveys in the Ionian Sea and south of the island of Crete. Data from these surveys may lead to a bid for investors to explore for oil and gas in 10 to 15 offshore blocks. Greece also plans a tender this year for exploration in 10 to 12 additional terrestrial blocks.

Law of the Sea

Papapconstantinou said the difficulty with Turkey is that it isn’t a signatory to the Law of the Sea Convention. Greece will restart discussions with Egypt and Libya and will talk to Albania and Italy, where such agreements are in place, while it is “co-operating closely” with Cyprus, he said.

Cyprus has established EEZs with its neighbors, excluding Turkey, which says some of the areas are within Turkish territory. Greece should take similar practical steps to sign agreements with neighboring countries on maritime borders, Greek New Democracy Party leader Antonis Samaras, whose party leads in opinion polls, said Feb. 20. Greece is due to hold elections in April or May.

Noble Energy Inc, based in Houston, Texas, which holds a license to explore and exploit gas in Block 12 of Cyprus’s offshore territory, said on Dec. 28 that it discovered as much as 8 trillion cubic feet of gas off the island’s south coast. The geological conditions in this field may extend west to south of Crete, Papaconstantinou said.

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