A second Turkish ship will begin drilling for oil and natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean within a week, Turkey’s energy minister has said, ramping up exploration despite mounting tensions with the European Union, which has deemed Ankara’s search “illegal,” Aljazeera reported on Sunday.
Last month, EU leaders warned Turkey to end its gas drilling in disputed waters or face action from the bloc, after Greece and Cyprus pressed other member states to speak out.
Turkey’s first drilling vessel, Fatih, has already started searching for gas and oil in waters considered part of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by the international community.
Cyprus has issued arrest warrants for Fatih’s crew members, accusing the ship of breaching the republic’s sovereign territory.
Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez on Saturday was quoted as saying by Anadolu, the Turkish state-run news agency, that the second drilling ship, the Yavuz, was currently at the port of Mersin doing final tests and taking on supplies.
Ankara, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, claims that certain areas in Cyprus’s EEZ fall under the jurisdiction of Turkey or of Turkish Cypriots, who have their own breakaway state in the north of the island that is recognized only by Turkey.
“God willing, within a week Yavuz will begin drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, off the Karpaz [peninsula], in an area where we have secured a license from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [KKTC],” Dönmez said.
The EU last month warned against Turkey’s “illegal” drilling, raising the threat of sanctions unless Turkish officials abandoned the project. However, Ankara insists that it is drilling inside its continental shelf.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish occupation triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Several peacemaking efforts have failed, and the discovery of offshore resources has complicated the negotiations.