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Cyprus: Eni concerns over warships ‘to be expected’, Ozersay says Turkey’s strategy ‘paying off’ (Update 2)

ENI's Saipem 12000 drillship

Government sources on Thursday played down remarks by the CEO of an Italian energy firm who said his company would not drill off Cyprus if it meant having to deal with warships.

The sources, requesting anonymity, told the Cyprus Mail that the comments by ENI boss Claudio Descalzi were “logical and to be expected.”

“What else could he have said? That they would defy Turkish warships?”

Regardless, the same sources added, Cyprus would not put on hold its gas exploration programme.

Earlier in the day, Descalzi was quoted as saying by AFP news agency that his company ENI would not risk prospecting off Cyprus if the area was a hot zone.

“I am not worried… (but) if someone turns up with warships, I won’t drill wells,” he said.

“I certainly don’t want to start wars for wells,” Descalzi told journalists on the sidelines of an event in Rome.

Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay was later quoted as welcoming Descalzi’s remarks, saying they indicated that Turkey’s strategy on resources around the island was paying off.

Timewise, Descalzi’s comments coincided with the arrival of a Turkish drillship, the Yavuz, in block 7 of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, which Ankara does not recognise.

En route to its destination, the Yavuz had been escorted by two Turkish frigates.

Block 7 was licensed to ENI and France’s Total in an agreement signed in Nicosia last month.

Turkey claims that approximately a third of block 7 – southwest of Cyprus – falls within its continental shelf.

ENI has already had run-ins with Turkish naval presence off Cyprus. In February 2018, a drillship leased by the company was prevented from reaching a drilling target in block 3, southeast of the island.

The vessel was blocked by Turkish warships, on the pretext they were conducting war games in the area. After a two-week standoff, the drillship withdrew and returned to port. ENI cancelled the operation.

Cyprus has accused Turkey of a “severe escalation” of violations of its sovereign rights.

Turkey has already drilled wells in waters to the east and west of the island, triggering strong protests from Nicosia and the European Union in recent months, including EU sanctions.

Ankara says it is protecting the rights of the Turkish Cypriots but also has its own claims in the region.

Of Descalzi’s remarks, energy analyst Charles Ellinas said they “make total sense” and should come as no surprise.

“Oil companies’ first priority is to ensure their staff and contractors are safe,” Ellinas said.

“One also has to remember that the responsibility for ensuring drilling operations are conducted in safe conditions, rests with the licensor – in this case the Republic of Cyprus.”

Back in July, energy minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis said that starting from late this year or early 2020, there are plans by all licensed companies to drill up to nine wells.

ENI and France’s Total are partners in seven offshore blocks. At the time the government also approved a 12-month license extension to five of those blocks.

A partnership between ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum, and a consortium composed of Texas-based Noble Energy, Israel’s Delek and Dutch Shell, have licenses for a block each.

Asked how Ankara’s ‘gunboat diplomacy’ might impact Cyprus’ planned prospecting, Ellinas said that depended on which new wells are located in areas disputed by Turkey and which are not.

“Turkey is very careful to act ‘legally’, so to speak. It’s extremely unlikely it would interfere with drilling operations in, say, block 10 on which it lays no claim.

At any rate, at this juncture the energy companies licensed by Cyprus have their attention focused elsewhere.

“Take ExxonMobil: their priority right now are LNG investments in Mozambique and Papua New Guinea. Likewise ENI and Total are preoccupied with operations in other parts of the world.

“Which is to say, that these companies are in no rush to drill off Cyprus.”

“Take ExxonMobil: their priority right now are LNG investments in Mozambique and Papua New Guinea. Likewise ENI and Total are preoccupied with operations in other parts of the world.

“Which is to say, that these companies are in no rush to drill off Cyprus.”


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