Cyprus has warned that it will issue international and European arrest warrants “for all involved” if drilling for gas and oil—as threatened by Turkey—takes place in what it considers as its exclusive economic zone.
Despite warnings from Nicosia, the EU and the US, Turkey has said it will “exercise its sovereign rights” to drill off Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean and has sent its first ever drillship, the Fatih, and support vessels, escorted by a naval frigate.
“Turkey does not recognise the unilateral and illegitimate exclusive economic zone claims of the Greek Cypriots,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a letter released by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.
He added: “Third parties should refrain in taking sides in overlapping maritime boundary claims and they should not act as if they are in a court in rendering judgement on bilateral maritime boundaries.”
Turkey has deployed its drillship 39 nautical miles off the western coast of Cyprus, the northern part of which is a Turkish-Cypriot breakaway territory which is only recognised by Ankara. The closest Turkish shore lies almost 80 nautical miles away. However, Turkey argues the region is part of its own continental shelf, claiming that its drilling activities can therefore be seen as in compliance with international law. As a country with few natural energy resources on its territory, Turkey faces a huge bill each year for oil and gas imports and is anxious not to miss out on any hydrocarbons it can claim as its own.
EU pledges “full solidarity”
Earlier this month, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Brussels has “grave concern” over Turkey’s plans off Cyprus—an EU member state—and said sanctions could follow. “We urgently call on Turkey to show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus in its exclusive economic zone [EEZ] and refrain from any such action to which the European Union will respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus,” she added.
International oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Total and Eni, have been awarded search rights in licensed blocks off the island by Nicosia.
“The presence of international energy giants in our exclusive economic zone is the best vote of confidence for our actions,” the Guardian on May 20 cited a well-placed government source as saying. “By questioning the legitimate rights of Cyprus in its continental shelf and EEZ, Turkey is also questioning the agreements that we have already signed with neighbouring countries [on delimiting exploration borders].”
Turkey last week launched its largest-ever naval exercise, Operation Seawolf, with more than 130 warships. Much of it was is set to occur near Cyprus.
Last year, Turkey dispatched gunboats to prevent drilling operations by Eni commissioned by the Cypriot government. The company abandoned the search.