Turkey rejects EU claims that drilling off Cyprus is illegitimate

turkTurkey’s foreign ministry says it rejects statements by Greek and European Union officials that Turkish drilling for gas and oil off the island of Cyprus is illegitimate.

The ministry said on Wednesday the EU could not be an impartial mediator on the Cyprus dispute, and that Turkey’s Fatih ship had started drilling activities off the Mediterranean island at the start of May.

Turkey claims having exploring rights off the island, either through its own continental shelf or in zones where Turkish Cypriots have equal rights over any finds with Greek Cypriots.

Cyprus, an EU member, rejects the claim, saying that assertion is not only inconsistent with international law, but that Turkey would not accept any international dispute settlement mechanism where its claims could be put to the test.

Turkey’s Yavuz ship recently arrived at the east of Cyprus to become the second ship to conduct drilling activities there.

On Tuesday, the US State Department urged Turkish authorities to halt drilling operations, a day after Cyprus protested against the Yavuz dropping anchor there.

“The United States remains deeply concerned by Turkey’s repeated attempts to conduct drilling operations in the waters off Cyprus,” the State Department said in a statement.

“We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint and refrain from actions that increase tensions in the region,” it said.

The discovery of huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has set off a race to tap underwater resources, sparking a dispute between Turkey and European Union member Cyprus.

Second ship deployed

The Yavuz dropped anchor just northeast of the Karpasia peninsula, a jutting panhandle which is in territorial waters.

The other Turkish vessel, the Fatih, is anchored some 37 nautical miles off the western coast of the island in an area Cyprus claims is its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the maritime zone in which it has rights over its natural resources.

The EU said on Monday the latest move by Turkey was an “unacceptable escalation”, having warned Ankara to stop its “illegal” activities or face sanctions.

Cyprus is divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and a breakaway state set up after the 1974 Turkish occupation, following a coup sponsored by the military government then ruling Greece.

Earlier this month, Cyprus said it has launched legal proceedings against three firms that it accuses of supporting illegal Turkish oil and gas exploration in its waters.

It also issued arrest warrants for Fatih’s crew, accusing the ship of breaching the republic’s sovereign territory.