Turkey continues to pursue "illegal expansionist plans" in the east Mediterranean by again attempting to drill for gas in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights, the Cypriot government said Monday.
The Cypriot government said the latest target of Turkish drill ships is in waters south of Cyprus that span two sections — or blocks — of the economic zone where the island nation has exclusive rights and licensed energy companies Eni of Italy and France's Total to carry out exploratory drilling.
"This new illegal 'act of piracy' constitutes a further severe violation of the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Republic of Cyprus, contrary to international law," the Cypriot government said in a statement, noting that the move is taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The government said the latest actions represent the sixth time in less than a year that Turkey moved to drill inside Cypriot waters. Turkey first dispatched a warship-escorted drill ship in July of last year.
Turkish research vessels also are carrying seismic surveys inside Cyprus's economic zone that Cyprus also considers illegal and part of a "militarization" by Turkey of the surrounding sea that "puts peace and security in the east Mediterranean at risk."
A statement posted Sunday on the Turkish Defense Ministry website says that Turkey's drill ships – the Fatih and the Yavuz – and research vessels Barbaros and Orucreis were continuing their activities in the eastern Mediterranean, with the Turkish navy providing security from both the air and sea.
The European Union has repeatedly condemned Turkey's exploration off Cyprus, saying the activity violated the sovereign rights of a member nation. In February, the EU imposed asset freezes and European travel bans on two top officials from the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation.
Turkey previously said it was acting to defend its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area's energy resources. Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and claims as its own much of the island's economic zone, part of which it says falls within its continental shelf.
Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a breakaway, Turkish Cypriot state in the island's northern third.
Cyprus joined the EU as a whole in 2004, but EU laws and membership benefits only apply to the Greek Cypriot south where the internationally recognized government is seated.
Cypriot Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis said last week that ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum announced they're postponing their own exploratory drilling program inside Cypriot waters until Sept. 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent sharp drop in oil prices.