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12 Feb, 2018 10:24

Standoff on high seas: Turkish warships block Cypriot offshore drilling

Standoff on high seas: Turkish warships block Cypriot offshore drilling

Cyprus has accused Turkey of obstructing a drilling rig from reaching an exploration area in the east Mediterranean. The Italian energy firm Eni was set to undertake exploratory drilling for natural gas.

The Saipem 12000 drill ship was en route to an area south-east of Cyprus when it was stopped by Turkish warships and told to go no further due to military activities in the destination area, according to a spokesman for Eni quoted by Reuters.

Turkey, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, says that some areas of the so-called exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Cyprus are under Turkish jurisdiction. The island was split some 45 years ago between the internationally-recognized, Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey.

The Turkish foreign ministry has slammed the Greek Cypriot authorities for a “unilateral” offshore hydrocarbons search. Cyprus was disregarding the “inalienable rights” to natural resources of Turkish Cypriots and jeopardizing the region’s stability, the ministry claimed in a statement.

Ankara also urged international corporations not to back the activities by the Greek Cypriot government. Italy’s Eni, along with Total of France and ExxonMobil of the US, are currently licensed to search for offshore hydrocarbons off Cyprus' southern coast.

At the same time, President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades accused Turkey of violating international law by blocking the ship, pledging to take “necessary steps.”

“From our side, our actions reflect the necessity of avoiding anything which could escalate the situation, without of course overlooking the violation of international law perpetrated by Turkey,” he said, as cited by the agency.

Italy in its turn is following the matter “at the highest level through its diplomats in Nicosia and Ankara, and following all possible diplomatic steps to resolve the question,” a spokesman for the Italian foreign ministry said.

According to Eni’s spokesperson “the vessel has prudently executed the orders, and will remain in position pending an evolution of the situation.”

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