NICOSIA – Stepping up aggression and hinting at military action, Turkey sent warships to block an Italian company drillship from reaching waters off Cyprus licensed for an energy hunt, sending the Cypriot and Italian governments to plan a response.
The legitimate Cypriot government, which Turkey refuses to recognize as it continues to occupy the northern third almost 44 years after an unlawful invasion, said it was in quick contact with Italy after the Saipem 12000 drillship of energy giant ENI was reportedly forced to halt its course to Block 3 of the island’s Exclusive Economic zone (EEZ) by Turkish warships.
Turkey, which doesn’t recognize laws of the seas, has it owns a large of Cyprus’ EEZ and has sent its own energy research vessels into Cypriot waters with no action from the United Nations or the European Union it wants to join, and of which Cyprus is a member.
Turkey has repeatedly warned Cyprus not to license international companies to drill in the waters where recent reports indicate there could be lucrative discoveries Turkey also said it wants a share of even though the sources would be in waters outside Turkey’s jurisdiction.
Speaking to state broadcaster CYC, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the Turkish vessels forced the captain to maneuver out of their way, while other reports said the Turkish ships ordered the drillship to change course.
“The foreign ministries of Italy and Cyprus are in constant contact,” Kasoulides said.
The ship stopped its course to its intended destination on Friday when it was at a distance of 15 nautical miles – 70 kilometers off southeast coast of Cyprus.
Later, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said any conflict that results, with no reports Italy would send its own warships to protect the ENI vessel or that the Cypriot Navy or Coast Guard would take action, would be the fault of “the Greek Cypriot administration continuing its unilateral hydrocarbon-related activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
“Despite all our warnings, the Greek Cypriot administration continues its unilateral hydrocarbon-related activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. It does so in disregard of the inalienable rights on natural resources of the Turkish Cypriot people, who are the co-owners of the island,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The sole responsibility for any situation that could arise as a consequence falls on the Greek Cypriot side, which, instead of expending efforts towards a just and lasting comprehensive settlement in Cyprus, persists in acting as though it were the sole owner of the island and in continuing its unilateral hydrocarbon-related activities,” the statement added.
The dispute over the waters clouded the collapsed unity negotiations that fell apart at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana in July, 2016 where Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades walked away after Turkey said it would never remove an army it keeps in the occupied territory only it recognizes and that it wanted the right to militarily intervene.
“This attitude of the Greek Cypriot side, which does not shy away from irresponsibly jeopardizing the security and stability of the Eastern Mediterranean region, is actually the fundamental reason behind the failure of the Cyprus settlement negotiations to produce an outcome for the past half-century,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
“As long as the Greek Cypriot administration continues its unilateral hydrocarbon-related activities, it will remain evident just how far removed the Greek Cypriot side is from perceiving the Turkish Cypriots as their equal partners,” it said.