Alternative scenarios drawn up to end Cyprus EEZ blockade

Nicosia said it was working through diplomatic channels to resolve the current standoff with Turkey in the island’s economic waters, while Ankara reiterated it would not allow Greek Cypriots to ‘unilaterally’ exploit natural gas resources without sharing with Turkish Cypriots.

Speaking to reporters, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said Cyprus’ objective remained the same: to ensure that the rig chartered by Italian oil major ENI carries out its planned gas exploratory drill in offshore block 3.

Since last Friday Turkish warships have set up a blockade around the Saipem 12000 drillship, on the premise of conducting military exercises in the area. The drillship remains immobilized at a distance of some 50km from the site of the drill.

Christodoulides refused to be drawn on what further diplomatic manoeuvres Nicosia had in store should Turkey extend the Navtex, or notice to mariners, by which it reserved for military drills the area in block 3.

The Navtex in question is set to expire on February 22; Turkey could renew it at any time.

“We are ready to handle the situation as it develops. Various things are being considered, alternative scenarios have been drawn up, and depending on how the situation evolves the Republic shall act accordingly,” the spokesman said.

He said that during the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Sofia, which began on Thursday, foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides would raise with his counterparts the issue of Turkey’s actions off the coast of Cyprus.

Also attending the gathering in Sofia will be Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik.

Ankara meanwhile indicated it was not prepared to budge. Speaking from Baku, Azerbaijan, where he was attending a conference on natural gas, Turkey’s energy minister Berat Albayrak underlined that his country is resolved to fully exercise its rights emanating from international law and to defend the Turkish Cypriots’ rights.

Albayrak accused Greek Cypriots of seeking to create “facts on the ground” through their gas exploration activities, warning that Turkey would stand against this “to the very end.”

Turkish Cypriots, he added, are joint and equal owners of the island’s natural resources.

Turkish Cypriots signed a ‘Continental Shelf Delimitation Agreement’ with Turkey in September 2011. It is on this basis that Turkish Cypriots declared an ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ of their own, which in effect claims that half of Cyprus’ EEZ belongs to them, including blocks 1,2,3,8,9,12 and 13.

Turkey itself is laying claim to parts of various blocks in Cyprus’ EEZ saying the areas in question form part of its continental shelf. The claim includes part of blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

A key question is how long ENI can hold out in the event Turkey decides to continue blocking the drillship.

It’s understood that, other than the financial cost to the company – up to €500,000 a day to lease the rig – ENI must at some point release the drillship for other projects.

According to reports, the Saipem 12000 has next been chartered for work in Morocco in March. This leaves ENI a diminishing window of time to put the rig to use, as the exploratory drilling in Cyprus’ block 3 was expected to take between 20 and 25 days.

Citing sources in the government, daily Politis said ENI could probably wait until February 22 to start drilling operations – but not much beyond that.

February 22 is the date on which the Turkish Navtex expires.

How the present situation unfolds could have an impact on future gas exploration in waters south and southeast of the island. Commentators suggest that other oil companies may be discouraged from pursuing projects offshore Cyprus should Turkey prevail in stopping this particular drill.

Hubert Faustmann, professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia says Turkey is more prepared than the other side (Cyprus and Italy) to push the envelope:

“The Turks have been consistent, in that they always take the corresponding countermeasures to Greek Cypriot moves in the eastern Mediterranean.

“They have gradually escalated their measures. In the beginning they used to send seismic ships into the Cypriot EEZ, now they’re dispatching warships.”

Reports in the local media suggested energy companies won’t be deterred from their Cyprus operations.

Phileleftheros writes that, far from backing away from its Cyprus projects, ENI has confirmed in writing to the government its commitment to honour its contractual obligations by carrying out at least three more drills.

The Italian state is part-owner of ENI.

On Thursday Italy’s defence minister Roberta Pinotti met her Turkish counterpart at the Nato defence ministerial gathering in Brussels.

She later told reporters that the two governments were seeking a “commonly acceptable solution” to the dispute.

Source: Cyprus Mail