Further Turkish provocations in Cyprus EEZ

Prior to intercepting the Saipem 12000 drillship in offshore block 3, the Turkish navy had attempted to harass the rig near the Calypso target in block 6 it has been revealed as it also emerged on Tuesday that Turkey was again manoeuvring to create ‘grey areas’ in the eastern Mediterranean by claiming security jurisdiction over the sea around Cyprus.

The Saipem 12000 arrived at Calypso in late December, where it drilled an exploratory gas well on behalf of ENI and Total, who share the concession in block 6.

Sources familiar with the matter told the Cyprus Mail on Tuesday that a Turkish warship unlawfully entered the 500m exclusion zone around the drilling target once the rig had already anchored there.
The warship remained at the site for a brief amount of time – perhaps an hour – after which it complied with calls to leave the exclusion zone.

The same sources confirmed that Italian and French frigates, which had reportedly scared off the Turkish warship while accompanying the rig to its position, were operating in the general area as part of naval exercises for which permission had earlier been granted by Cyprus.

The frigates were operating out of the port of Limassol. But at no point was there any contact or confrontation between the frigates and the Turkish warship, the sources told the Mail.

“There was no incident at sea, as it were,” they added.

Having retreated from block 3, the Saipem drillship departed Cyprus around midnight on Monday, setting a course for Morocco.

Meanwhile it was revealed on Tuesday that the German vessel R/V Maria S Merian is expected to arrive in waters off Cyprus on Saturday for marine research operations in blocks 4, 5, 6 and 7.

The vessel’s operations are unrelated to hydrocarbons activities. According to the Cyprus News Agency, the German ship will be operating in waters between Cyprus and Crete.

As such, the vessel had received separate permissions from Cyprus, Greece and Turkey to operate in the respective exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the three countries.

The Greek permit concerned the area south of Crete, whereas the Cypriot permission related to offshore blocks 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Permission from Turkey was sought for a specific area between Crete and the western coast of Cyprus.

This was normal procedure, according to Captain Constantinos Fitiris, commander of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (Jrcc) in Larnaca.

Up until that point, he said, Ankara was playing by the rules.

But subsequently, on February 23, Turkey issued a Navtex, or navigational warning, reserving for the German vessel a zone 580km long and 25km wide, stretching from off the coast of Paphos up to Ierapetra in Crete – in this way also covering those areas of the Cypriot and Greek EEZs.

In other words, the Turkish navtex covers an area that goes beyond the segment falling under Turkey’s area of responsibility.

Fitiris explained that the purpose of the Turkish navtex was to push the claim that Turkey has jurisdictional authority in the entire sea area.

In response, Cypriot authorities issued a Navtex of their own, voiding the Turkish notice.
Turkey claims that parts of blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, to the south and southwest of the island, lie within its ‘continental shelf’.

Following the standoff in block 3, Turkish Cypriots are now demanding joint exploration and exploitation of natural gas reserves.

Speaking on Tuesday Barıs Burcu, spokesman for Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, described Greek Cypriot attempts to keep Turkish Cypriots and Turkey out of the energy policy equation as “a flawed approach that does not serve peace.”

Burcu added that joint hydrocarbons operations were “the most appropriate approach to prevent further escalation and bring stability to the island and the wider region.”

In Nicosia, US Ambassador Kathleen Doherty gave her country’s backing to the Republic. “We’ve been watching the events very closely, and as you know, I discussed it last week with the President and also with the Minister of Energy here. My counterparts have also discussed it in Ankara and Athens. Secretary Tillerson made comments about this in his meetings in Ankara last week.

“Our policy has been very longstanding. We believe that the Republic of Cyprus has the right to explore and exploit its resources in its EEZ. We also have said publicly, and we have as a longstanding position that the resources should be shared equitably with all Cypriots in the context of a settlement.”

One day earlier, in a telephone conversation between Erdogan and French president Emmanuel Macron the French leader conveyed to Ankara the message that it should respect Cyprus’ sovereignty.

According to a statement issued by the French president’s office, Macron told Erdogan that he was concerned about recent events off the coast of Cyprus, stressing “the need to respect Cyprus’ sovereignty.”

Meantime two vessels contracted by ExxonMobil are due to arrive in block 10 by the end of the week, reports said.

The vessels will be deploying remotely-operated underwater vehicles which will take further readings of the seabed at three selected locations in block 10.

Their purpose is to gather more data to narrow down the most likely targets for gas drilling, which ExxonMobil is planning during the second half of the year.

ExxonMobil will reportedly be drilling two back-to-back exploratory wells in late summer or early autumn.