Ankara confirmed initiation of gas drilling activities near Cyprus territorial waters

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared on Thursday the initiation of gas drilling activities near Cyprus territorial waters. This development would exert greater strain on the already tense relations between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. The longstanding cleavages among the three neighbours have effectively called off delimitation of their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in previous decades.

Proven evidence for the existence of rich gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea led to the establishment of business partnerships between the Cyprus government and international energy conglomerates for underwater gas exploration and drilling activities. This development heightened aquatic boundary disputes between Turkey, the violently seceded Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the Greece-Cyprus axis. Ankara staunchly opposes the possibility of Cyprus participation to gas drilling schemes with energy giants without sharing part of the revenues with the TRNC authorities.

For example, in February 2018 the Turkish navy intercepted a drillship by the Italian energy giant Eni. The ship was moving towards Block No.3 of Cyprus EEZ to assume gas exploration and drilling activities. Turkey justified the Italian vessel’s interception on the grounds that Eni representatives did not ask for permission by TRNC maritime authorities to carry out operations in Block No.3. This is one of the contested blocks between Cyprus and TRNC/Turkish EEZs.

In October 2018, the Turkish drillship, named Fatih (Conqueror), made initial exploration activities off the Turkish territorial waters, near the Antalya region. Ankara recently brought a second drillship, originally destined for exploration and drilling purposes in the Black Sea region. Nonetheless, the Turkish Minister claimed on Thursday that both vessels will be deployed in TRNC’s EEZ in the coming days.

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