Tensions grow as Cyprus says Turkish drilling ship violates its rights

Athens - Tensions between Cyprus and Turkey over offshore drilling intensified on Friday, with Nicosia accusing Turkey of a “severe escalation” of violations of its sovereign rights.

di Michele Kambas

Athens - Tensions between Cyprus and Turkey over offshore drilling intensified on Friday, with Nicosia accusing Turkey of a “severe escalation” of violations of its sovereign rights.

Turkey announced on Thursday that it had sent an oil-and-gas drilling ship to waters off southern Cyprus where Greek Cypriot authorities have already awarded hydrocarbon exploration rights to Italian and French companies. Ankara, defiant of growing European criticism, said the drill ship would launch new operations next week even as a British diplomat said that Britain “deplored” any drilling in waters close to the island.

The two sides have been shadow-boxing over offshore rights for years, but the simmering dispute between countries that have spurned diplomatic relations has moved closer to boiling over. Turkey says some of the areas where Cyprus is exploring are either on its own continental shelf or in zones where Turkish Cypriots have equal rights over any finds with Greek Cypriots. Turkey has already drilled two wells in waters to the east and west of the island, triggering strong protests from Nicosia and the European Union in recent months, including EU sanctions.

But the latest development is the first time the two sides have zoomed in on the same area. In a strongly worded statement on Friday, the Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of “bullying tactics of an era long gone” and called on Turkey to withdraw from the area.

“This new provocation is exemplary of Turkey’s defiance of the European Union’s, and the international community’s, repeated calls to cease its illegal activities,” it said. The statement also urged Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources within its maritime zones. It said the move was more proof of “the utterly provocative and aggressive behaviour of Ankara, which has chosen to speedily and irreversibly depart from international legality, thus putting security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean at risk”.

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