Has Turkey bought the drillship just to show off around Cyprus?

Has Turkey bought the drillship just to show off around Cyprus?

This year’s poll commissioned by Kadir Has University’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development on the public’s energy preferences reveals a clear difference with the one conducted last year.

There has been a noticeable rise in the awareness of the public on energy issues. The most striking finding in this year’s poll was on people’s awareness on political parties’ energy policies. Last year, 75 percent of the respondents said they do not know the energy policies of the parties they voted for. This year, the figure dropped to 46.6 percent. Some 8.4 percent said last year they had moderate information on the energy policies of the parties they voted for. This year, this figure increased to 34.9 percent.

Some energy pundits attribute this change to the minister himself. Berat Albayrak, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, has been Turkey’s energy minister since November 2015. Following the initial months, he became one of the most visible ministers of the cabinet. He receives wide press coverage.

Albayrak has introduced the “local and national” motto to energy policies, a motto that has widely been used by Erdoğan. That’s probably why there has been a sharp decrease in this year’s poll among those who said Turkey could purchase energy from Russia and a rise among those who have said, “Turkey should not purchase energy from anyone, but develop its own resources.”

In addition to introducing the “local and national,” Albayrak will go down in history as the minister who bought Turkey’s first drillship in 2017. Was it the urge to make the extraction of energy resources national, or was it the necessity of challenging the Greek Cypriots’ gas exploration activities, which sped up the purchase of the ship? At any rate, the purchase of Deepsea Metro II might have made the Foreign Ministry officials just as happy as those in the Energy Ministry, like the purchase of the two seismic ships some time ago.

Indeed, the Turkish public is familiar with the country’s first seismic vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa; not so much about its findings, but more about its presence in the Mediterranean. Each time it leaves the port it’s docked at, there is tension with the Greek Cypriots in the Mediterranean.

While these ships fulfill an important function as a “deterrent,” it is equally imperative they do what they were intended to do; seismic surveying and drilling. When the Greek Cypriots start to take action south of the island, what will Turkey and Turkish Cyprus do? Challenge it militarily, just as they had done when the Italian energy giant ENI tried to send a drilling platform? In that case, it had been easier to object since it was in Turkish Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.

Even if this delimitation lacks de jure recognition, there is de facto recognition, since forcing ENI’s drilling rig out of the area by Turkish warships have not created a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the rest of the world.

That would not be the same if drilling activities were to increase in other parts. As military tension would be unnecessarily costly in terms of international diplomacy, Turkey and Turkish Cyprus might then opt to retaliate by starting drilling in the northern shores. That however, would not only require the presence of the ship, but also human capital with necessary experience. You cannot send a ship and ask it to drill haphazardly. With meritocracy having been a long forgotten practice in Turkish bureaucracy, one hopes the necessary steps will be taken in that direction, too.

Barçın Yinanç, hdn, opinion, president