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Italy monitoring developments around Saipem 12000 (Update 4)

The Saipem 12000

The Italian foreign ministry said on Monday it is monitoring the harassment of energy giant ENI’s drillship Saipem 12,000 by Turkish navy vessels and is pursuing “all possible diplomatic steps to resolve the issue”.

According to the Italian News Agency Ansa, Italy’s foreign ministry said it is following the case “at the highest levels” and that is in contact with the Italian embassies in Turkey and Cyprus while pursuing “all possible diplomatic steps to resolve the issue”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ansa said, had expressed his opposition to ENI’s operations in meetings with President Sergio Mattarella and Premier Paolo Gentiloni during a recent visit to Italy.

President of the European Council Donald Tusk spoke to President Nicos Anastasiades over the phone and in a tweet said “I call on Turkey to avoid threats or actions against any EU member and instead commit to good neighbourly relations, peaceful dispute settlement and respect for territorial sovereignty.”

Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi, speaking from Cairo on the sidelines of an oil conference said the company “was not expecting” Turkey to block its drilling floater Saipem 1200 “because we are well inside Cyprus’ Economic Zone” where the Italian fuel giant has already dug two wells without difficulty.

According to Ansa, Descalzi added “we have already sunk other wells in the same conditions … and absolutely nothing happened. Tension probably rose for other reasons and so the ship was blocked.”

The government continued consultations to resolve the incident without escalating tensions. Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides was low-key in his response on Monday on the government’s reaction to the situation.

The government’s primary goal, he said, is for Saipem 12,000 to resume its course and begin drilling in Soupia location in Block 3 of the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency, Christodoulides refrained from giving details regarding the situation, caring concerns that this could affect the effectiveness of any actions taken.

Nicosia, he said earlier in the day to state broadcaster CyBC radio, is handling the issue calmly and with targeted planning so that the drillship can resume its course and reach its target. “At diplomatic level, there is intense activity at various levels,” he said.

He added that the Turkish navy evoked the illegal Navtex Turkey issued for military drills in the area, to ask other vessels, cargo ships, to change course. The Navtex in question expires on February 22, Christodoulides said.

The Saipem, he said, is 25 nautical miles from Soupia.

“We have seen similar behaviour (by Turkey) but this time it is more intense,” he said.

These actions, he said, do not help efforts to reach a settlement solution of the Cyprus problem.

An official from the ENI’s headquarters in Italy is expected to arrive in Cyprus on Tuesday, he said, for a scheduled visit in the framework of regular consultations with the company.

Greece and the European Commission called on Turkey to stop these actions.

The Commission`s Deputy Chief Spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, said that the EC has called on Turkey to refrain from friction and threats against EU member states.

“Turkey needs to commit unequivocally to good neighbourly relations and avoid any kind of source of friction, threat or action directed against member states which damages good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of disputes,” she said. “The EU stresses the need to respect the sovereignty of Member States over their territorial sea and airspace”.

The Greek foreign ministry earlier congratulated the Cypriot government for its “sober attitude” and called on Turkey to refrain from “further unlawful actions and comply with its obligations stemming from international law”.

Turkey’s provocative behaviour, it said, is not consistent with the conduct of a country that is a candidate for accession to the EU.

This behaviour is indicative of the intentions of Turkey on the Cyprus problem, the ministry said.

Cyprus’ stance, it said, “reaffirms its role as a pillar of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean”.

The Saipem 12000, which was on its way to the Cuttlefish (Soupia) location in Block 3 of the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), was told to stay put by the Italian oil giant after harassment on Friday by Turkish warships that reportedly ordered the captain to change course. The vessel’s status, according to live ship-monitoring website marinetraffic.com, continues to be ‘restricted manoeuvrability’.

While the government is trying to resolve the matter, Turkey appears to be unwilling to budge.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Sunday criticised Cyprus for continuing “its unilateral hydrocarbon-related activities in the Eastern Mediterranean” and said that Turkey would continue to protect its own interests.

These activities were “in disregard of the inalienable rights on natural resources of the Turkish Cypriot people, who are the co-owners of the island,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.

It also said that sole responsibility for any situation that could arise as a consequence falls on the Greek Cypriot side.

This attitude of the Greek Cypriot side, it said, is the fundamental reason behind the failure of the Cyprus settlement negotiations to produce an outcome for the past half-century.

The Turkish ministry also urged companies based in third countries to refrain from supporting ‘this unconstructive Greek Cypriot attitude’, through cooperation in the area of hydrocarbons.

Meanwhile, former vice-admiral of the Turkish navy, Cem Gurdeniz said in an interview to Turkish daily Milliyet that Cyprus is testing Turkey’s patience in the Eastern Mediterranean and that the harassment is a serious demonstration of the power of the Turkish fleet.

“These moves of the Greek Cypriot side and Greece are testing the patience and the possible reaction of Turkey,” Gurdeniz said. If Turkey backs down on this issue, he said, it will give the impression that it will do so on other matters.

President Nicos Anastasiades said on Sunday the government was taking all necessary diplomatic steps to resolve the issue peacefully and avoid an escalation.

The Saipem 12000 had set off from Block 6, off the south-west coast on Friday, a day after ENI announced promising gas finds at the Calypso plot, but was intercepted by Turkish warships.

Political parties condemned Turkey’s actions, and some pledged their support for the government while others criticised it and the EU for non-effective actions.

Diko leader Nicolas Papadopoulos said that he supports all the actions of the government, saying that unity is necessary to defend the sovereign rights of the country.

Akel stressed that the most effective way for the government to be able to exercise unhindered its sovereign right to the natural resources within its EEZ is the settlement of the Cyprus problem. It called on Anastasiades to take initiative towards this direction.

Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos urged Anastasiades to do the exact opposite – not to procced with any exploratory contacts ‘to relaunch talks under the weight of Turkey’s extortionist behaviour’. The government he said, ought to report Turkey’s actions to the UN security council, and veto any upgrade of its relations with the EU.

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