Cyprus on Tuesday branded statements by a UK minister that the island’s EEZ was “under dispute” as unacceptable, as reports surfaced that the Turkish drillship located 60km west of Paphos seemed to be preparing to start drilling in the island’s waters.
“Mr Duncan has been and continues to remain unacceptable,” President Nicos Anastasiades said about comments made by British Minister for Europe Sir Alan Duncan, who has made similar comments in the past.
“I want to believe that the appropriate step will be taken by the Prime Minister, because I believe that his whole position does not reflect the correct policy that should be followed by Great Britain, regarding all the interests it has in Cyprus, and the support Britain has received in these critical times it is going through, even if it is from our small country, which has the same vote as the others,” Anastasiades said.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Duncan said the Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was under dispute and that drilling should not be conducted in the area.
UK-Cypriot MP Bambos Charalambous had called on the parliament to condemn Turkey’s actions in the EEZ, to which Duncan said that areas “under dispute” should not be drilled in.
Charalambous said that Turkey’s decision “not only jeopardises the chances of a successful resumption of peace talks but also creates a risk of return to open conflict.”
Duncan said: “I met with the Turkish ambassador yesterday, and had a very constructive talk with him. The position of the United Kingdom is that, according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, exploratory drilling cannot be conducted in any area in which the sovereignty is disputed.”
Meanwhile, Cyprus Defence Minister Savvas Angelides called on EU partners to take measures against Turkey.
“I believe now it is important to take measures, and the EU has said that it will act accordingly, monitoring Turkey’s actions,” he said.
He added that it is clear all the steps are being taken to stop the illegal action of Turkey.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also weighed in on Turkey’s actions west of Paphos. He said in an interview with Alpha TV in Greece that Ankara’s actions were “empty gestures” and that Turkey did not have the technology to conduct a proper drilling.
However, reports surfaced that Fatih may be prepping to start drilling operations at the site dubbed Finike-1 west of Paphos.
Daily Phileleftheros reported that on Sunday, and for the first time since the rig’s arrival, the three supporting vessels began transporting equipment to the Fatih.
Up until then, the supporting vessels had been making back-and-forth trips from the rig to the port of Antalya without carrying any heavy gear.
The development on Sunday could signal the Fatih is readying to commence drilling.
On Monday, energy minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis told the state broadcaster that the drillship had been unable to start drilling over the previous fortnight or so, but that this appeared to be changing.
He said that Turkey had been finding it difficult to secure various sub-contracting work necessary for a drill.
“Our information indicates that Turkey has now secured these services, although drilling has not begun yet. Perhaps they are missing certain things.”
Lakkotrypis claimed that Nicosia was at least partly responsible for preventing Turkey from acquiring sub-contracting or support services for the rig.
He hinted that this was being done behind the scenes, with the government exerting pressure on companies not to participate in the illegal Turkish operations.
The minister also revealed that the government is aware which companies are assisting the Fatih, and that Nicosia is methodically gathering data on these outfits as it considers legal measures against them, including seeking international arrest warrants against individuals.
Phileleftheros said that in previous days Nicosia had sounded out the main corporations providing support drilling services. It received assurances that none of these were cooperating with the Fatih.
It was also discovered, however, that about 10 lesser known – or second-string – companies were found to be engaged with the Fatih’s prepping operations.
Nicosia is also said to be working to threaten legal measures against insurance companies who have contracted the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (Tpao) for operations offshore Cyprus.
On May 3 Turkish authorities issued a Navtex (navigational telex) advising that the drillship Fatih would be carrying out ‘drilling operations’ in an area west of Paphos, until September 3.
Meantime the Turkish navy has launched one of the country’s largest naval drills.
The exercise, dubbed SeaWolf 2019, covers the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Black Sea. A total of 131 warships, 57 warplanes, 33 helicopters and 25,900 military personnel, including search and rescue teams, are taking part in the drill that lasts until May 25.
Lakkotrypis stressed that Turkey’s provocations inside the island’s exclusive economic zone will not dampen Cyprus’ own energy programme.
Negotiations are ongoing to license offshore block 7 to Total and ENI jointly. There were also thoughts on getting the two energy companies to form joint ventures in other offshore blocks, beyond blocks 6 and 11.