Cyprus, Turkey spar after warships block gas drilling
Cyprus has insisted Turkey had breached ‘international law’ on 11 February after Ankara's warships blocked an Italian drilling ship on course to explore for gas in the island's politically sensitive waters.
Italy's energy giant ENI said its vessel was ordered to stop by Turkish ships on 9 February over ‘military activities’ in the destination area’ as it sailed to begin explorations in Block 3 of Cyprus's exclusive economic zone.
Turkey and the Greek Cypriot-majority republic have sparred over resources in the eastern Mediterranean, with Ankara pushing the claim of the unrecognised statelet it backs on the north of the divided island.
Nicos Anastasiades, President of Cyprus, said: ‘We are keeping calm in order to avoid any crisis and taking all diplomatic steps necessary so that finally Cyprus' sovereign rights can be respected.
‘We are handling the situation by trying to avoid anything that could worsen the situation without ignoring the fact that Turkey's actions are in breach of international law.’
However, Turkey's foreign ministry lashed out at Cyprus over the ‘unilateral hydrocarbon-related activities’ by the European Union's most easterly member.
Turkey's foreign ministry in a statement said: ‘It does so in disregard of the inalienable rights on natural resources of the Turkish Cypriot people, who are the co-owners of the Island.
‘This unconstructive Greek Cypriot attitude also constitutes a major obstacle to the settlement of the Cyprus issue.’
The island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.
Cyprus announced on 8 February that exploratory drilling by Italy's ENI and France's Total had found extensive gas reserves elsewhere off the island in a major breakthrough in its hunt for resources.
Cyprus has signed deals with a range of firms for exploratory drilling, with US giant ExxonMobil also planning two drills in the second half of 2018.
The dispute over resources in the Mediterranean is another complicating factor in efforts to reunify the island after negotiations on the 44-year feud collapsed in acrimony last year.
Turkey and Cyprus are not the only countries at odds over resources in the eastern Mediterranean, with Israel and Lebanon also feuding over competing claims.