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Turkey Makes Another Bid for a 7th-Generation Drillship

cobalt explorer
File image courtesy DSME

Published Nov 14, 2021 11:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

Turkey's state-owned petroleum company has reportedly reached an agreement with DSME to buy a 2015-vintage drillship which was never delivered.

According to Turkish news outlet Yeni Safak, Turkish oil and gas company TPAO has purchased the 7th-generation drillship Cobalt Explorer to add to its existing fleet of three 6th-generation vessels. This is the second time in a year that TPAO has tried to buy a fourth drillship: the previous attempted purchase, the 2014-built Bolette Dolphin, was never finalized. The Bolette was later sold to a Norwegian firm, Deep Value Driller AS, for a reported $85 million. 

DSME has had difficulty in finding a firm buyer for Cobalt Explorer (renamed West Cobalt). The ship was originally ordered by Vantage Drilling for a 2015 delivery date, but like so many rig projects of the era, the order was canceled and Vantage entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In 2019, Northern Drilling bought the right to take delivery of Cobalt Explorer for $350 million, then quickly canceled the resale contract, claiming "repudiatory breach of contract" by DSME. TPAO is set to be the third buyer by the time the rig leaves the shipyard.

TPAO has recently deployed its drillship fleet to find natural gas in the Black Sea. In June, the drillship Fatih discovered a 135 billion cubic meter gas reserve in the Sakarya field, adding to the 2020 discovery of a 400 billion cubic meter natural gas field nearby. Turkey is working to bring these resources online by 2023; the supply is expected to reshape its energy economy and reduce its dependence on imported gas. The Cobalt Explorer's first deployment is expected to be in this area, according to Turkish media. 

More controversially, Turkey has also used its drillships to explore for resources in disputed waters off the northern and southern coasts of Cyprus. The 6th-generation drillship Yavuz conducted an extended exploration campaign in waters claimed by the Republic of Cyprus in 2019 and 2020; Turkey has not announced any commercially-significant finds in the area. However, tensions over the overlapping maritime claims in the Eastern Mediterranean could prompt a return: Deniz Haber reports that the Turkish government is ready to send its ships back if tensions with Greece and Cyprus should rise again.