Cyprus says Turkey’s latest gas drilling is proof of ‘expansionism’

Ankara sent a drill ship to Cypriot waters on Monday

FILE - In this Thursday, June 20, 2019 file photo, a Turkish police officer patrols the dock, backdropped by the drilling ship 'Yavuz' to be dispatched to the Mediterranean, at the port of Dilovasi, outside Istanbul.  The leaders of Greece, Israel and Cyprus are set to sign a deal Thursday Jan. 2, 2020, for a 1,900-kilometer (1,300-mile) undersea pipeline that will carry gas from new offshore deposits in the southeastern Mediterranean to continental Europe. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
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Cyprus on Monday accused Turkey of continuing to pursue “illegal expansionist plans” in the east Mediterranean by again trying to drill for gas in water where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.

The Cypriot government said the latest target of Turkish drill ships is in waters south of Cyprus, which span two blocks of the economic zone.

Cyprus has licensed energy companies Eni of Italy and France’s Total to carry out exploratory drilling there.

Turkey on Monday sent the Yavuz drill ship to the blocks for almost three months until July 18.

The vessel carried out unauthorised drilling in Cyprus's territorial waters in summer last year, and in block 7 of its exclusive economic zone from October to January.

About a week earlier Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted that Ankara would keep drilling in the region despite pressure from the Greek and Greek Cypriot governments, and the EU.

“This new illegal act of piracy constitutes a further severe violation of the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Republic of Cyprus, contrary to international law,” the Cypriot government said.

It said this was the sixth time in less than a year that Turkey moved to drill inside Cypriot waters.

Ankara first sent a warship-escorted drill ship in July last year.

Turkish research vessels also are carrying out seismic surveys inside the economic zone.

Cyprus considers that to be illegal and part of a “militarisation” by Turkey of the surrounding sea that “puts peace and security in the east Mediterranean at risk".

The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Sunday that drill ships Fatih  and Yavuz,  and research vessels Barbaros  and Orucreis,  were continuing their activities in the eastern Mediterranean, with the Turkish navy providing security from air and sea.

The EU has repeatedly condemned Turkey’s exploration off Cyprus, saying it breached the sovereign rights of a member nation.

In February, the bloc imposed asset freezes and travel bans on two top officials from the state-owned Turkish Petroleum.

Turkey said it was defending its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area’s energy resources.

Ankara does not recognise Cyprus as a state and claims as its own much of the island’s economic zone, part of which it says falls within its continental shelf.

Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aimed at union with Greece.

Only Turkey recognises a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the island’s northern third.

Cyprus joined the EU as a whole in 2004, but EU laws and membership benefits only apply to the Greek Cypriot south where the internationally recognised government is seated.

Georgios Lakkotrypis, the Cypriot Energy Minister, said last week that ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum announced they were postponing their exploratory drilling inside Cypriot waters until September 2021.

The delay was because of the pandemic and the subsequent sharp drop in oil prices.