The government on Wednesday essentially confirmed a media report suggesting Turkey had somehow obtained studies carried out by Italian energy firm ENI prior to drilling for natural gas in an offshore field off Cyprus’ south coast.
In an interview with Greek state broadcaster ERT, government spokesman Kyriacos Kousios said the information the government had, along with Turkey’s moves in the area pointed to this: “that they have obtained certain studies”.
The spokesman was quick to stress that the government was not suggesting any of the energy companies involved had given Turkey the data relating to a field in block 8 of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“I do not think, and I am not claiming in any way that either of the two companies have given (Turkey) the studies,” he said.
“But to go to the particular target … it seems that through some way they have information about the studies,” Kousios added.
It followed a report on Tuesday in daily Phileleftheros that Turkey’s drillship Yavuz was on the way to a target previously surveyed by ENI, which owns the concession along with France’s Total.
The paper said after its failure to find gas in previous drills inside the island’s EEZ, Turkey chose to target a field which according to surveys could hold gas reserves.
However, Politis journalist Chrysanthos Manoli wrote on Wednesday that detailed data regarding the drilling had been published in August 2017 on the website of the state environment department, which publishes all environmental studies submitted when applying for a permit.
The studies were also published on the webpage of the labour inspection department.
The government subsequently intervened and the department stopped publishing studies relating to natural gas drilling, Manoli wrote.
The target in question had been either abandoned or downgraded by ENI, he said.
Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said it would be a negative development if Turkey drilled in the field since it would raise issues with licensed companies which expect a return on their investment.
The minister said EU sanctions against individuals and companies involved in Ankara’s activities in the EEZ could escalate depending on developments.
Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC radio, the minister admitted, however, that these sanctions would not lead to Turkey ending her illegal activities off Cyprus.
“The most important is that it sends a clear message to those involved that there are consequences,” he said.
Commenting on President Nicos Anastasiades’ statements on Tuesday that one should not create expectations that Europe was ready to take harsher measures against Turkey, Christodoulides said the president was being pragmatic. He explained that several EU countries are concerned about Turkey’s threats on the migration issue while each country has in mind its own interests.
On Tuesday, the US said it remained “deeply concerned” by reports of Turkey’s drilling operations in the waters off Cyprus and has urged the Turkish authorities to halt them.
“The United States remains deeply concerned by reports of Turkey’s drilling operations in the waters off Cyprus, including plans to dispatch the Yavuz south of Limassol,” a US state department spokesman said.
“This provocative step raises tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations,” he added.
He said that the US policy on Cyprus’s EEZ is “longstanding and has not changed: The United States recognises the right of the Republic of Cyprus to develop the resources in its exclusive economic zone.”
“Only the Republic of Cyprus can assert maritime claims from the territory of Cyprus,” he said.
According to the spokesman, “energy resource development in the Eastern Mediterranean should foster cooperation, increase dialogue between the two communities and among regional neighbours, and provide a foundation for durable energy security and economic prosperity.”
Turkey had announced its intention to start drilling off Cyprus last year and has so far carried out a handful in the west and east.
In response, on July 15, 2019, EU foreign ministers endorsed measures against Turkey’s actions.
On Monday, they decided to task the Relex working group to expedite the sanction list on Turkey’s illegal drilling.