Just a day after it said it won’t allow Cyprus to conduct a “unilateral” gas search off the Eastern Mediterranean island’s coast if Turkish Cypriots don’t also reap the benefits, Ankara ratcheted up tensions with Nicosia Friday when its warships threatened to use force against a drillship contracted to Italian energy giant Eni as it tried, again, to reach an area in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to commence exploratory gas drilling.
Turkey has been obstructing the Saipem 12000 drillship from approaching an area in Block 3 of Cyprus’s EEZ since February 9, citing naval exercises. This week it announced it is reserving the area until March 10.
Earlier in the month a Turkish gunboat rammed a Hellenic Coast Guard vessel near the eastern Aegean islet of Imia. Turkey’s aggression was raised by Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the informal summit of European Union leaders in Brussels Friday.
European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters after the meeting that the bloc was calling on Turkey to stop activities that have led to recent incidents in Greece and Cyprus, stressing that both countries have the “sovereign right” to explore for resources. He also said the EU will assess during March’s European Council meeting whether the conditions are ripe for a high-level meeting with Turkey in Varna on March 26.
The drillship left the area after the incident and headed west for the city of Limassol, where it is expected to remain for a few days before sailing to Morocco.
“Unfortunately, the drillship was halted by five Turkish warships and after threats of violence and the threat of a collision, it was compelled to return back,” said Cypriot government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos, who stressed, however, that the postponement of the scheduled drilling does not mean that the island’s energy plans will change.
Cyprus Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis echoed the same view, telling Kathimerini’s Cyprus edition that Nicosia’s energy plans “will not change and will continue on the basis of existing plans.”
“We gave room to diplomacy to work but, since the efforts have not yielded results, we made another effort to approach the target but the drillship was forced to withdraw under the threat of use of force,” Lakkotrypis said.
Ankara, which does not recognize Cyprus as a state, claims that part of the island’s EEZ belongs to its continental shelf.