Tensions over marine exploration rights in Cyprus increase

South Cyprus accused Turkey on Monday of taking “provocative and illegal” action by sending a survey vessel to an area where the Greek Cypriot government has licensed exploratory drilling for oil and gas’ Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’ reports.

Greek Cypriot Defence Minister Chistoforos Fokaides said the vessel was being closely monitored and that Nicosia would examine “its response to defend its rights and sovereignty.”

South Cyprus is unhappy that Turkey is determined to search for oil and gas in the same region where the Greek Cypriot government has already licensed exploratory drills in an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Following discovery of natural gas deposits offshore South Cyprus, Ankara opposed the Greek Cypriot government’s exploitation of offshore energy reserves before a solution to the decades long Cyprus problem was reached.

Earlier this month President Nicos Anastasiades walked away from the Cyprus negotiations, launched in February, just  before he was due to meet his Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu.

On Monday Anastasiades chaired an emergency meeting of political leaders to discuss how the South should respond to the Turkish action.

Satellite maps of marine traffic in the region show that the Turkish seismic vessel, ‘Barbaros’, had moved to around 20 nautical miles off the island’s south east coast at Cape Greco near the exclusive economic zone.

Nicosia has licensed exploratory drills for oil and gas in the zone. However, Ankara does not recognise the zone and demands that Turkish Cypriots share natural resources.

The movement of the ‘Barbaros’ and accompanying ships – two support vessels and a Turkish navy frigate as shown by the maps – are “provocative and illegal,” Fokaides told state radio.

Nicosia is “now obliged to escalate its response to defend it rights and sovereignty,” he said.

“We have already studied alternative scenarios. This move by Turkey was one of the scenarios that we studied, we are not surprised that it carried through on its threat,” Fokaides said, without giving any further details.

Ankara had issued a notice that a Turkish seismic vessel would carry out a survey from 20th October to 30th December in the same area where the Italian-Korean energy consortium Eni-Kogas is operating.

According to ‘Cyprus Gas News’, the current marine advisory issued by Turkey reserves a swathe incorporating parts of blocs 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9. On Monday the ‘Barbaros’ entered Bloc 3, but is also expected to come into bloc 9 where Eni is currently drilling for gas,

Although this is not the first time Turkey will be intruding into an offshore bloc, it’s understood the key difference lies in that, unlike past forays, the ‘Barbaros’ is now conducting intensive seismic surveys.

Despite repeatedly violating [South] Cyprus’ EEZ and its offshore blocs, Turkey has been careful to never commit areas overlapping those reserved by [South] Cyprus. Areas reserved for hydrocarbons activity are far smaller than the offshore blocks themselves.

Ankara does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, nor its jurisdiction over the South’s EEZ. Turkey is not signed up to the 1982 Law of the Sea and has repeatedly warned [South] Cyprus against “unilaterally” exploiting offshore hydrocarbons without including the Turkish Cypriots.

South Cyprus says that only after a comprehensive settlement and reunification can joint exploitation of natural resources be possible.

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