Europe and Turkey at loggerheads over Cyprus gas fields

For several days, the Eni Saipem 12000 drill ship has been held up in the eastern Mediterranean, 50 km off the coast. Block 3 in Cyprus’s EEZ is at the heart of the controversy. The Cypriot government signed an agreement with the Italian energy giant, but Turkey wants all activity in the area stopped, insisting on its right to it.


Ankara (AsiaNews) – Energy could cause another flare-up in the Eastern Mediterranean. First came the Block 9 issue between Lebanon and Israel, now it is the turn between Europe and Turkey.   

ENI’s Saipem 12000 drill ship is now in the middle of a controversy after the Turkish Navy stopped it on its way to Block 3 in Cyprus’s Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ), which Turkey claims.

The geopolitics of energy is at the heart of the dispute that could escalate at both regional and international levels. More specifically, it involves ENI’s exploration rights in the area.

Turkey, which occupied the northern part of Cyprus in 1974, claims that those rights belong to the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which rules the northern part of the island. However, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to develop the gas fields to ensure his country’s energy independence.

In July, the "sultan" warned energy companies not to sign any off-shore exploration and drilling agreements with the Republic of Cyprus or risk losing Turkey’s friendship. The former rules the Greek side of the island, and is the island’s only internationally recognised government.

Last week Erdogan warned the Italian government not to engage in any unilateral actions near Cyprus. In his meetings with Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, he expressed concerns regarding ENI's activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Italian energy giant plans to invest 150 million euros (US$ 185 million) in the area.

For Erdogan, any actions would be seen as a “threat” to Northern Cyprus and Turkey. Since then, the Turkish government took action. On Saturday, its Navy intercepted the ENI drill ship on its way to Block 3 under license of the Cypriot government.

For the past few days, the Saipem 12000 drill ship has been held up in the eastern Mediterranean and so far, nothing indicates any possible avenue for a solution to the controversial situation.

According to a Cypriot TV report, the ship is located about 50 km from its intended area of operation south-east of the island.

A Cypriot government spokesperson said that Turkey’s notice reserving areas for naval exercises that include Block 3, which expires on 22 February, violates international law. Cyprus wants to ensure that it can work with ENI so that the Saipem 12000 drill ship can begin its operations.

ENI has been present in Cyprus since 2013 and holds interests in six licenses, located in the island nation’s exclusive economic zone (blocks 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 11), five of which are operated.

In early February, the company announced that one gas reservoir was discovered in Block 6, offshore Cyprus, with Calypso 1 NFW. More exploration is needed to determine its size.

At the Egypt Petroleum 2018 show in Cairo, ENI’s CEO Claudio Descalzi said that operations are taking place within Cyprus’s EEZ. In Rome Italian authorities have activated their diplomats to protect the interests of one of Italy’s largest conglomerates.

The European Union has also waded into the affair. "The EU also stresses the need to respect the sovereignty of member states over their territorial sea and airspace," European Commission Spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said. Turkey, she added, needs to “avoid any kind of source of friction, threat, or action directed against a member state".

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