Cyprus has condemned another Turkish incursion into its designated maritime zone to drill for oil and gas in a move escalating tension during a time the world is fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
A statement from the Cyprus presidency said Turkey’s announced intention to drill off the island was the sixth such attempt in less than a year.
Nicosia said it highlighted Ankara’s “true intentions given that it continues to openly pursue its illegal expansionist plans, in the midst of the unprecedented devastating pandemic that affects humanity as a whole”.
“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 statement added.
“The attempted second drilling, just two months after the start of the illegal drilling west of Cyprus within the Cypriot EEZ, is an escalation of continued violations by Turkey,” the statement added.
Cyprus said Turkey’s “escalating and provocative actions” showed “utter contempt” for the European Union which has imposed sanctions against two top officials of the Turkish State-owned oil company TPAO.
Nicosia called on everyone involved in “Turkey’s illegal drillings to immediately terminate any form of cooperation or assistance in any illegal activities within Cyprus’ maritime zones”.
“The Republic of Cyprus will continue to defend its interests and rights using all legal means at its disposal,” said Monday’s statement.
Turkey it has sent the 229-metre (750-feet) Yavuz to search for oil and gas off Cyprus following previous incursions.
Such moves have prompted EU leaders to approve “targeted and appropriate” sanctions if Turkey does not stop its “illegal activities” in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Cypriot government condemned “Turkey’s imminent attempted illegal drilling operation within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf of the Republic of Cyprus.
It said this was in an area “lawfully delimited by means of the 2003 EEZ Delimitation Agreement between the Republic of Cyprus and Egypt.
“The specific maritime area spans exploration blocks 6 and 7, which have been duly licensed to European companies ENI and TOTAL.
The hydrocarbons exploration and exploitation of these blocks constitute exclusive sovereign rights of Cyprus, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
The region near the divided island is believed have rich natural gas deposits, triggering a race between Turkey and the internationally recognised Cyprus.
Nicosia had planned to ramp up its exploratory activities in the eastern Mediterranean before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted exploration schedules of the energy majors.
The island has been divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and the northern third under Turkish military control since 1974, formed after Ankara’s troops occupied the area in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek military junta.
Ankara says its actions abide by international law and that it is drilling inside its continental shelf.
Turkey opposes unilateral moves of exploration activities by EU member Cyprus off the Mediterranean and says Turkish Cypriots have rights to a share of the island’s offshore resources.
Brussels and the United States have previously tried to persuade Turkey to stop its exploratory drilling off the island.
Energy giants Total of France and Italy’s ENI are heavily involved in exploring for oil and gas off Cyprus as is ExxonMobil of the US.