Report: Cyprus accuses Turkish military of obstructing gas drill ship

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Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades / AFP PHOTO / Iakovos Hatzistavrou

Cyprus on Sunday accused the Turkish military of preventing a ship contracted by Italian multinational oil and gas company Eni from proceeding to an area for natural gas exploration, Reuters reported.

A spokesman for Eni said the Saipem 12000 drill ship had been heading to an area southeast of Cyprus on Friday when it was stopped by Turkish military vessels and ordered not to continue because of military activities in the destination area.

Turkey, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, claims that certain areas in Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone, known as an EEZ, fall into the jurisdiction of Turkey or the Turkish Cypriots.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Turkey had violated international law by blocking the ship and that Cyprus would take the “necessary steps,” without elaborating, although he seemed keen to avoid exacerbating the situation.

“From our side, our actions reflect the necessity of avoiding anything that could escalate [the situation], without of course overlooking the violation of international law perpetrated by Turkey,” Anastasiades told journalists in Nicosia.

A spokesman for the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Turkish authorities were not allowing the ship to proceed to its destination.

Italy 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,” the spokesman said.

A spokesperson for Italy’s state-controlled Eni said the ship, which was traveling after reporting a natural gas discovery in another prospect within Cypriot maritime boundaries on Feb. 8, would remain stationary until the issue was resolved.

“The vessel has prudently executed the orders and will remain in position pending an evolution of the situation,” the spokesperson said.

The ship was heading to Block 3 of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, ENI said.

Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement on Sunday did not make any mention of obstructing the Eni ship but said exploration of Block 3 was a unilateral move by Greek Cypriots that violated the sovereign rights of Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically split island and that Greek Cypriots were jeopardizing security and stability in the region.

The Greek Cypriots, who are exploring for natural gas, run Cyprus’s internationally recognized government. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) is recognized only by Ankara and says resources around the island belong to them, too.

Cyprus’s state radio reported senior officials from Eni would hold talks in Nicosia on Monday.

The island was split in a Turkish intervention in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup. Peace talks collapsed last year.

Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would continue to protect Turkey’s own rights and interests on its continental shelf, and those of Turkish Cypriots.

“We also make use of this opportunity to strongly emphasize our expectation that companies centered in third countries refrain from supporting … this unconstructive Greek Cypriot attitude which also constitutes a major obstacle to the settlement of the Cyprus issue,” it said.

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