Without saying whether it implied a military intervention – a warship is off Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said there would be a “necessary response,” if there’s any attempt to arrest the crew of a Turkish energy ship there.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said that would happen if Cyprus “dares,” even trying to take the crew into custody after the Cypriot government indicated it might issue international arrest warrants because the ship is in Cypriot waters – which Turkey doesn’t recognize.
There are growing fears of a conflict – accidental or otherwise – as Cyprus and Turkey both want energy revenues off the coast of the island where Turkey has unlawfully occupied the northern third since a 1974 invasion.
Aksoy’s remarks were reported by Turkish media over the arrest warrants by Nicosia for the crew of the ship Fatih, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying another Turkish drillship would be sent to the area despite the European Union and United States backing Cyprus.
The warrant also covers offcials of companies which cooperate with the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) for conducting illegal activities within the island’s continental shelf and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the Cypriot government said.
Aksoy questioned the warrants’ validity, said Kathimerini, as he claimed they were issued by Cyprus on the grounds that it owns the EEZ, disputed by Turkey, which doesn’t recognize the United Nations Law of the Seas except when it wants to back its own claims.
Aksoy said Cyprus’ claim is not based on international law, even though Turkey doesn’t recognize them. For this reason, he added, “we will also initiate the necessary counter-legal processes together with our related institutions.”
Turkey claims that parts of Cyprus’ EEZ belong to its continental shelf and would, said Aksoy, “continue maintaining petrol and natural gas exploration/drilling works as planned in order to protect the rights of Turkey’s own continental shelf and the rights of Turkish Cypriots, who are the equal partners of the island.”
The US Sixth Fleet has ships in the area too, with the US energy giant ExxonMobil licensed to drill in Cyprus’s EEZ had having reported a major gas find.
Calls are growing in Turkey for more drastic action against Cyprus, with retired Admiral Cem Gurdeniz proposing in a commentary published in the Yeni Safak paper the recall of Turkey’s Ambassador to the European Union – to which Cyprus belongs and Turkey wants to join.
Gurdeniz said Turkey should also close border crossings in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital that has split, and that a second drill ship should be sent now into Cyprus’ EEZ.
The hunt for energy has been a volatile catalyst on the island although Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he was willing to share revenues with the Turkish-Cypriot side. That wasn’t enough for Erdogan or Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci who said they wanted Turkish-Cypriots to take part in the licensing process too.
Turkey keeps a 35,000-strong army on the occupied land which only Turkey recognizes among all the countries of the world and said it would never be removed. That insistence – along with demanding the right to militarily intervene again – caused the breakdown of the last round of unity talks, in July 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.
A deal Cyprus made with foreign companies for an underwater pipeline also saw Turkey saying it will defend the rights of Turkish-Cypriots.
That was in reference to a revised $9 billion contract Cyprus made with the U.S.-based Noble Energy, the Dalek Group of Israel and Royal Dutch Shell which Ankara said was a violation of the rights of Turkish-Cypriots unlawfully occupying the northern third of the island since a 1974 Turkish invasion.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry objected to the contract that covers the distribution of revenues from natural gas exploitation from the Cyprus’s Aphrodite field in the eastern Mediterranean and the transfer of natural gas by an underwater pipeline to Egypt’s Idku liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, said the Turkish news site Ahval.