Tensions between Cyprus and Turkey over offshore drilling intensified on Friday (4 October) when Nicosia said a decision to send a ship to an area it had already licensed was a “severe escalation” of Turkish violations of its sovereign rights.
Ankara, defiant of growing European criticism, said the drill ship would launch new operations next week even as a British diplomat said Britain “deplored” any drilling in waters close to the island.
Turkey announced on Thursday it had sent an oil-and-gas drilling ship to waters off southern Cyprus where Greek Cypriot authorities have already awarded hydrocarbon exploration rights to Italian and French companies.
Turkey says some of the areas where Cyprus is exploring are either on its own continental shelf, or in zones where Turkish Cypriots have equal rights over any finds with Greek Cypriots.
Turkey has already drilled two wells in waters to the east and west of the island, triggering strong protests from Nicosia and the European Union in recent months, including EU sanctions.
In a strongly-worded statement Friday, the Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of “bullying tactics of an era long gone” and called on Turkey to withdraw from the area.
“This new provocation is exemplary of Turkey’s defiance of the European Union’s, and the international community’s, repeated calls to cease its illegal activities,” it said.
The statement also urged Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources within its maritime zones.
It said the move was more proof of “the utterly provocative and aggressive behaviour of Ankara, which has chosen to speedily and irreversibly depart from international legality, thus putting security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean at risk.”
On Friday morning the drill ship, the Yavuz, had stopped about 51 nautical miles southwest of Cyprus.
A Turkish diplomat said in a Tweet the Yavuz would start a new round of drilling operations south of Cyprus on 7 October, adding they would be within Turkey’s continental shelf.
“The drilling area lies within the Turkish continental shelf registered with the United Nations and in the permit licenses that the (government) granted to Turkish Petroleum,” said Cagatay Erciyes, the head of the foreign ministry’s department looking into the eastern Mediterranean.
Erciyes said Turkey does not recognise the maritime boundary claims of the Greek Cypriots, adding that “unilateral actions” by Greek Cypriots violated the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots.
“Turkey doesn’t recognise the continental shelf/exclusive economic zone maritime boundary claim of the Greek Cypriots despite their efforts to portray this claim as EU waters or boundaries, which is a blatant violation of international law,” he said.
Greek diplomats say Athens will raise the issue during US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Greece on Saturday.
Speaking in Nicosia on Friday, the British Minister of State for Europe, Christopher Pincher, said any oil wealth should be extracted to the benefit of all Cypriots.
“I made it very clear that Great Britain deplores any drilling in waters close to Cyprus but supports Cyprus’s right to extract oils in its exclusive economic zone,” Pincher said.
The island of Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.
The internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government represents Cyprus in the European Union, while a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north is recognised only by Ankara.