Second Turkish drillship arrives off Cyprus amid 'grave concern'

Another vessel anchors in Cypriot territorial waters, where Nicosia claims Ankara has no right to extract oil and gas.

    Turkey's Energy Minister Fatih Donmez has said his country has a 'licence [to drill] from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' [Murad Sezer/Reuters]
    Turkey's Energy Minister Fatih Donmez has said his country has a 'licence [to drill] from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' [Murad Sezer/Reuters]

    A second Turkish ship planning to drill for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus sailed on Monday to the waters northeast of the Mediterranean island.

    The action triggered a strong protest from the Cypriot government in Nicosia, which called the move an infringement by Turkey on its sovereign rights.

    Last month, European Union leaders warned Turkey to end its gas drilling in waters around the island or face action from the bloc after Greece and Cyprus pressed other EU states to speak out.

    The EU on Monday said Turkey's plan was an unacceptable escalation of tensions.

    "Turkey's declared intention to illegally conduct a new drilling operation northeast of Cyprus is of grave concern," the EU foreign policy branch said in a statement. "This second planned drilling operation, two months after the start of the ongoing drilling operations west of Cyprus...violates the sovereignty of Cyprus."

    In a move that could further strain ties with Cyprus over exploration rights, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez was quoted by state-owned Anadolu news agency on Saturday as saying the ship would start drilling within a week.

    Meanwhile, Cyprus has discovered natural gas in areas rimming the south of the island in recent years, although none of the natural gas has been extracted.

    Data from Refinitiv Eikon shipping showed the vessel - called Yavuz - arrived in the area overnight.

    A strongly-worded statement issued by the Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of a "grave violation" of the sovereignty of the island.

    "This planned second drilling ... is an escalation by Turkey of its repeated violations of Cyprus's sovereign rights based on the UN Law of the Sea and international law, and is a most serious violation of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus," Cyprus's presidency in Nicosia said in a statement.

    Conflicting claims

    The Yavuz is the second drilling ship to anchor off Cyprus in the past two months. It is now located just northeast of the Karpasia peninsula, a panhandle pointing towards Turkey and Syria, but not far from Lebanon.

    The other Turkish vessel, the Fatih, is anchored some 69km off the western coast of the island in an area Cyprus claims is its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a maritime zone where it has rights over its natural resources.

    Turkey maintains that some of the areas Cyprus is exploring in are either on its own continental shelf or are in zones where Turkish Cypriots have equal rights over any finds with Greek Cypriots.

    Nicosia rejects such claims, saying they are not only inconsistent with international law, but that Turkey does not accept any international dispute settlement mechanisms where its assertions could be put to the test.

    Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion that was triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Several peacemaking efforts have failed, and the discovery of offshore resources has complicated the negotiations.

    Nicos Anastasiades: Cyprus, Turkey and the gas standoff

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    Nicos Anastasiades: Cyprus, Turkey and the gas standoff

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency