Dr Anna Bredima, Senior Policy advisor on European affairs,

Cyprus Union of Shipowners, abredima@yahoo.gr 

The geopolitical developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the disruptive role of Turkey in many respects are a source of concern for world policymakers and relevant institutions. Most of these issues are also carried in the international press but one : The Turkish embargo of ships under Cypriot flag.  Is  this  an elephant in the room?

The embargo was originally introduced in 1987 against ships of  Cypriot flag ,ownership or management. It was extended in 1997 against vessels under any flag sailing to Turkish ports directly from any port of the Republic of Cyprus or against ships of any flag related to Cyprus in terms of ownership or management.

The embargo is an obstacle to trade between EU ports and Turkey, it distorts the application of the principle of free and fair competition in shipping, it  increases the transportation costs, it undermines the economic development of the region within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. 

Furthermore, the embargo violates the Treaty of Functioning of the EU (TFEU/article 21 principle of non discrimination on the grounds of nationality (flag) and Regulation 4055/86 on freedom to provide maritime transport services( freedom of navigation, transit , access to ports,equal treatment ).

Turkey refuses the comply with its obligations vis-à-vis Cyprus and the EU deriving from the acquis communautaire  and the Association Agreement of Ankara (1963) which establishes the Customs Union between EU and Turkey (art 2). These obligations derive also from the Declaration of the EU adopted in 21/9/2005 and the Declaration of Turkey  upon signature of  the Ankara Agreement Protocol (29/7/2005) and the Negotiating Framework  of Turkey (3/10/2005) .zIn this context , ships under Cypriot flag, ownership ,management can be arrested or delayed when calling in Turkish ports, resulting in substantial financial losses.The  negative repercussions of the embargo affect not only Cyprus and Cypriot shipping.

There have been several instances of ships under flags of EU Member States which were affected, raised their complaints to the European Commission to no avail and thereafter stopped calling at Cypriot  ports.

Thus, the embargo hinders free trade between EU ports and Turkey, hinders the development  of the Motorways of the Seas and EU short sea shipping, reduces  the competitiveness of the Cyprus fleet  vis-à-vis vessels registered in third countries trading with Turkey , affects the interests of EU shipowners, charterers operating ships managed from Cyprus and incites them to relocate/reflag in third countries at a loss for Cyprus and the EU of which it is a full member state since 2004. 

The implementation of the EU – Turkey Customs Union Agreement and the extension of the Additional Protocol to Cyprus should lead to the lifting of the Turkish embargo with multiple positive economic effects for Cyprus and EU shipping. It would boost the competitiveness of the  Cypriot economy and create jobs. It would improve the position of Cyprus as a maritime cluster in the Eastern Mediterranean with a multiplier effect for trade, shipping , shipbuilding, ship repairs and ship recycling. It would contribute to the future cooperation between Turkey and Cyprus in these fields. It will promote tourism and Cyprus as a cruise and yachting destination as well as a center of offshore activities and  transhipment.

It would  optimize synergies in maritime training , education, R&D due to the need to employ specialized personnel.Αnd all these benefits would also go to the EU as a whole ! 

The embargo has been officially condemned by the EU institutions in several instances .The European Parliament responding  to relevant questions by MEPs  (MEP L.Christophorou1/6/2017 and 20/2/2020 , MEP A. Papadopoulou 29/9/2009 ),  characterised the embargo as “blatantly unacceptable and illegal”.  The General  Affairs Council (conclusions 11/12/2006) decided   not to open eight negotiating chapters of Turkey’s accession relevant to the embargo until Turkey complies with its commitments. The Customs Union Joint Committee EU – Turkey mentioned the embargo on 8-9/7/2019

Since 1998 , the discriminatory and illegal situation created by the embargo is constantly  acknowledged by the European Commission in its annual reports on Turkey . Thus, one wonders about the continuation of the embargo and the paradox of Turkey’s pronouncements that “it complies with international maritime law”.

Is this their perception  of international maritime law ? 

To which international maritime law does it refer?

Turkey  has not even ratified the UNCLOS Convention ( United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ,1982) which is also part of the acquis communautaire and has been ratified by all EU Member States and the EU as such.

Probably the embargo is an application of the “international law of the sea à la turca”. 

If Turkey persists in maintaining the embargo as a negotiating chip on its way towards EU accession, one wonders  how long is the EU going to tolerate the situation.  Is the elephant going to stay in the room?