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More provocations expected from Turkey as Cyprus pushes ahead with energy plans

The ultra deepwater drillship West Capella

The government expected Turkey to continue sabre-rattling, as the republic pushed on with its offshore natural gas exploration, Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis said on Thursday.

A day after a drillship arrived at Block 11, where it is scheduled to carry out exploratory drilling in the coming weeks, the minister said Cyprus will push ahead with its plans despite Turkey’s provocations.

“Our understanding is that Turkey will continue to challenge us one way or another,” the minister told state radio. “It is more appropriate to focus on what we do and the best response is to keep a low profile and respond through our actions in the sea.”

The well in Block 11, dubbed Onesiphoros West-1, is located some 180km off the island’s southern shores, at a distance of 8km from the boundary separating the Cypriot and Egyptian exclusive economic zones.

The drilling site is also around 40km from the Zohr super-giant gas field in Egyptian economic waters, where a 30-trillion-cubic-feet reservoir was discovered in 2015.

Based on seismic data, Lakkotrypis said, they did not expect a possible finding to be large.

“It is of great importance however, because it is the first drilling in what we call the second drilling cycle in the east Mediterranean, with the focus on the Eratosthenes seamount, and the discovery at Zohr in Egypt,” he said.

He added that a discovery north of Zohr would mean a lot in relation with similar structures located inside the Cypriot zone.

Turkey has called on Cyprus to “refrain from unilateral measures in the east Mediterranean,” arguing that Turkish Cypriots also had rights.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said an important opportunity was wasted at last week’s failed talks to reunify the island, and warned it was unacceptable that some energy companies were taking part in what he called irresponsible measures by Greek Cypriots.

“It is impossible to appreciate that some energy companies are acting with, and becoming part of some irresponsible measures taken by Greek Cypriots. I want to remind them that they could lose a friend like Turkey.”

On Tuesday, the drillship, West-Capella was intercepted by a Turkish frigate some 30 miles outside the Nicosia FIR, between Crete and Cyprus, but it was allowed to go through without any obstructions.

Turkey had also announced naval exercises in an area west of Cyprus.

The area reserved by Turkey begins at a distance of some 14 nautical miles off the Akamas, and covers parts of Cyprus’ offshore blocks 5, 6, and 7.

But perhaps Cyprus should be more concerned about a potential deal between Turkey and Israel to build a natural gas pipeline.

According to the Times of Israel, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said both countries decided to accelerate efforts to conclude a deal by the end of this year that will enable construction of a pipeline from Israel to Turkey.

“We want to build a pipeline stretching from Israel to Turkey in order to able to export natural gas from Israel to Turkey,” Steinitz was quoted as saying, adding that the Israeli gas could be delivered to Europe and to the Balkans through Turkey.

Lakkotrypis said Cyprus had no comment on the matter.

“We know there are discussions at a commercial and government level. These discussions are not something the Republic of Cyprus can comment on because it concerns these two countries,” he said.

He added however, that such a deal would entail agreeing on the sea boundaries and without the involvement of Cyprus, Turkey could not sign.

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