A Turkish seismic research ship headed for the Mediterranean on Friday (September 23rd) to start oil and natural gas surveys in the waters off northern Cyprus. The vessel, Piri Reis, set sail from Turkey’s Aegean port of Izmir, amid rising tensions between Ankara and Nicosia.
Announcing the operation Thursday, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the ship would be given as much of a military escort “as needed”.
He made the announcement a day after his country concluded a key agreement in New York delineating its maritime borders with Cyprus’s ethnic Turkish northern half.
The deal, giving Ankara the green light to begin offshore oil and gas exploration in that part of the Mediterranean, was signed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Wednesday’s agreement came two days after the Greek Cypriot government, which represents Cyprus in the EU, said that exploratory drilling off the island’s southern coast had kicked off late on Sunday.
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias immediately denounced Turkey’s moves towards exploiting energy reserves in that part of the Mediterranean as a “provocation” not only to Nicosia, but the entire international community, as well.
“Turkish naval manoeuvres in the region of Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone, where exploration is being carried out, are provocative and a real danger for further complications in the region,” he said in his address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday.
Christofias also accused Ankara and the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot administration of “trying to create tension and new illegal faits-accomplis” and called Wednesday’s agreement “unacceptable”. But he also assured that Turkish Cypriots would also benefit from the possible gas discoveries before the island unified.
Meanwhile, Yildiz said on Thursday that some of the areas marked for exploration by Turkey “clashed” with those announced by Nicosia. According to him, that did not imply that Turkey would stay away from them in the future.
Ankara warned of possible retaliatory actions on its part as soon as the head of Cyprus’s energy service, Solon Kassinis, confirmed on Monday that Texas-based Noble Engineering Inc. had already begun exploratory drilling farther south between Cyprus and Israel.
Threatening to blacklist any international companies working with Cyprus on Mediterranean oil and gas exploration projects, Erdogan said that Turkey’s energy ministry “has begun work to not accept these companies in the various energy projects” in the country.
He also warned about potential new hostilities as a result of the escalating tension over the issue.
“We expect all the concerned parties to work actively to make sure the Greek Cypriot administration halts these activities, which can lead to tensions not only on the island but in the entire region,” he said in a speech at the UN General Assembly. “Otherwise, we will do what is necessary.”