An EU-Turkey summit next month is conditional on Ankara’s termination of actions in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, European Council President Donald Tusk said on Friday, as Turkish navy ships threatened to use force in a bid to prevent a drillship from sailing into an area disputed by the Turks.
Tusk made the statement following an informal summit in Brussels attended by President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Both leaders briefed their EU partners about Turkey`s illegal violations in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Aegean.
On behalf of EU leaders, Tusk expressed the EU’s full solidarity with Cyprus and Greece, and called on Turkey to terminate these activities.
He also reiterated the bloc’s support for Cyprus’ sovereign right to explore and exploit its natural resources, in accordance with EU and international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“We are ready to cooperate with Turkey and will assess at our March European Council whether the conditions are there to hold the Leaders Meeting with Turkey in Varna on March 26,” Tusk said.
Earlier on Friday, Italian energy firm ENI’s Saipem 12000 drillship was forced to change course after being intercepted by five Turkish navy vessels and threatened with the use of force while attempting once more to reach offshore block 3 to drill an exploratory gas well, deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said.
He said Saipem’s captain, after consultations with ENI, attempted to head to plot 3 in the morning but was intercepted by the Turkish ships.
“On its way to plot 3 and its target, Soupia (Cuttlefish), it was intercepted by five Turkish warships and after the threat of the use of force and the threat of conflict, despite the captain’s courageous and laudable efforts, unfortunately the drillship was forced to return,” Papadopoulos added.
On February 9, the Turkish navy, supposedly on manoeuvres in the area, stopped the Saipem, triggering a diplomatic standoff.
Dogan News Agency released the radio communication between the captain of the Saipem and the captain of the Turkish navy vessel that had blocked its route to plot 3 on February 9.
The captain of the Saipem reportedly warned the Turkish vessel to get out of its way, ‘otherwise we will both sink’ and the Turkish warship’s captain replying ‘I cannot control our speed and our path’.
The Saipem captain reportedly replied ‘you can control your speed and your machines. I can clearly see that’, but the Turkish vessel continued its course forcing the Saipem 12000 to change its own course.
Turkey this week extended military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean to March 10.
Friday’s incident between the drillship and the Turkish vessels has been recorded, Papadopoulos said, and will be included in the reports Cyprus will file to international fora.
Following Friday’s incident, the Saipem will be sailing Morocco after a brief stop off Limassol.
Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis confirmed that Saipem would be sailing to Morocco where ENI has contractual obligations.
“All this time we let diplomacy work and since there was no result we made another effort to approach the target but the drillship was forced to leave after the threat of violence,” he said. “Despite it being a negative development as regards the drill at Cuttlefish, we will continue to implement our energy plans.”
Turkey claims it is acting on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots who also have rights on the island’s natural resources.
The breakaway regime in the north declared an ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ of its own, which in effect claims that half of Cyprus’ EEZ belongs to them, including blocks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12 and 13.
Turkey also has claims on parts of various blocks in Cyprus’ EEZ saying the areas in question form part of its continental shelf. The claim includes part of blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, to the south and southwest of the island.
Reports said Turkey is expected to start oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean in March.
Meanwhile the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum Tarek al-Mulla said that before mid-2018, there will be an agreement with the European Union to build a gas pipeline from Cyprus to Egypt.
During his participation in the Petroleum Week conference in London, the minister announced that a preliminary agreement with Cyprus’ government has been signed and further negotiations are underway between the governments.