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Turkey ups the ante over Cyprus drilling (Update 4)

TCG Gokceada

NICOSIA will utilise diplomatic and legal means to deal with Turkish threats in the Republic’s economic waters, the government said on Thursday, as Ankara announced it had dispatched a frigate to monitor a drillship conducting offshore gas exploration south of the island.

The Turkish armed forces general staff said on its website that it ordered the frigate TCG Gokceada to track the West Capella drillship that arrived in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the early hours of Wednesday.

“The (frigate) is fulfilling its duty in the eastern Mediterranean monitoring the West Capella… which, it is assessed, may carry out drilling activities,” the military said.

Earlier, Turkey said it would take measures against Greek Cypriot exploration for oil or gas around Cyprus, according to its foreign minister who added that Turkish Cypriots had rights on those reserves.

Turkey’s energy and foreign ministries are working together to plan steps against the Greek side’s “unilateral” steps, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, adding that sending a drilling vessel showed the Greek side’s “insincerity” about reunification talks that failed last week.

“The TRNC also has rights on the reserves around Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot side is carrying out unilateral activities,” Cavusoglu remarked.

The West Capella, contracted by France’s Total and Italy’s ENI, has moved into position to start exploring for gas in block 11 offshore Cyprus.

According to another report by Reuters, the Turkish military deployed two ships and a submarine to the eastern Mediterranean.

The military said it had deployed the frigates and a submarine to the eastern Med to “guarantee the security of oil transportation.”

Another frigate was dispatched to monitor the drillship, it said.

Turkey has also announced naval exercises for next week 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.

The United Nations meanwhile said late on Wednesday it was concerned with tensions in the area and did not want to see any incidents.

For its part, Nicosia said it would use both legal and diplomatic means to counter Turkey’s moves.

Speaking at the House watchdog committee on Thursday, energy minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis said the government was working “low key” behind the scenes and that “all scenarios and reactions are being considered.”

Quizzed by MPs, Lakkotrypis referred to talk of Turkey intending to deploy its own drilling platform in Cyprus’ EEZ.

Turkey’s claims on the island’s EEZ partly overlap with Cyprus’ blocks 1, 4, 6 and 7. Ankara also supports the breakaway regime’s claims on blocks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12 and 13, including within few kilometres from the Aphrodite gas field.

Turkey does not recognize the Republic, nor therefore the latter’s jurisdiction over its EEZ, and considers that an agreement between Cyprus and Egypt delimiting their respective economic waters is null and void as far as Cyprus is concerned.

In September 2001, Turkey and the breakaway regime signed a continental shelf delimitation agreement.

According to Lakkotrypis, Turkey is questioning Cyprus’s EEZ on three levels.

First, Ankara considers that the drill site in Block 11 lies within Egyptian economic waters.

The target 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.

Second, Lakkotrypis said, Turkey claims half of the northern section of Block 6, half of Block 5 and half of Block 4.

It also considers that blocks 2, 3, 8, 9, as well as a large section of block 12, are licensed by the breakaway regime, specifically by the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO).

It is for these latter blocks that Turkey is seeking a drilling platform to conduct its own gas exploration.

But it would extremely difficult for Ankara to obtain a platform, Lakkotrypis opined. That is because no company would agree to lease a vessel to Turkey and engage in illegal activities, and therefore Turkey would be forced to purchase a platform.

On the drilling activities proper, the minister said the West Capella has begun work on installing and stabilising a gas drilling platform.

Once everything was ready, drilling was expected to begin in two or three days.  The drill would eventually reach a depth of between 4250 and 4500 metres.

Lakkotrypis said no major discovery was expected in block 11, adding that initial assessments are that the Onesiphoros well may be of similar size to the Aphrodite reservoir in block 12.

“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.

Asked about the potential finalization of a natural gas pipeline deal between Turkey and Israel, Lakkotrypis said that since the pipeline would pass through the Cypriot EEZ the project would need Nicosia’s consent.

A day earlier, speaking on the sidelines of the 22nd World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, Israel’s energy minister Yuval Steinitz said Tel Aviv and Ankara decided to accelerate efforts to conclude an agreement by the end of this year.

“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.

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

Steinitz claimed that Israel has sufficient gas reserves for both pipeline projects under consideration – the Israel to Turkey pipeline and the EastMed project

“We have to move simultaneously on those pipelines because one direction is encouraging the other direction,” he added.

“We are working with the governments of Italy, Greece and Cyprus about a cross-Mediterranean pipeline. I think these are very important projects for all sides and I do not want to make priorities.”


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