Turkey has dismissed media reports that its controversial drillship, the Fatih, has struck a large gas reservoir containing around 170 billion cubic metres of natural gas off the Cypriot port of Paphos.
Turkey’s energy minister, Fatih Donmez, said the drillship had found no gas yet with about four weeks left in its mission.
“It smells of provocation,” the minister said in response to Cypriot reports about the state-run Turkish petroleum company (TPAO). The Republic of Cyprus and most of the international community will be hoping that none of the four Turkish drillships in operation in the eastern Mediterranean discovers gas, which would make it far more difficult for Turkey to de-escalate the situation.
The Turkish Cypriot paper Kıbrıs Postası said a diplomatic source confirmed the discovery.
ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum, under a licence from Nicosia, discovered a field in Cypriot waters that could yield 142-227 billion cubic metres.
A Cypriot source reportedly told the Irish Times that Turkey had drillships but could not conduct complex operations to extract fossil fuels and would need to rely on foreign firms that would face arrest warrants.
Donmez told the Turkish media: “We have said that we will ultimately use our rights derived from international law.”
But the international community is united in condemning Turkey’s drilling operations and only Ankara recognises its client state in northern Cyprus.
Donmez also said specialists from the Turkish foreign and defence ministries were working on the delimitation of Turkey’s exclusive economic zone.
In December 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he wanted to renegotiate an early 20th-century treaty marking the maritime boundaries of Turkey and Cyprus.
Turkey’s second drillship, the Yavuz, has been stationed off Karpasia panhandle and is due to begin drilling in a few days.
The Barbaros drillship was probing the seabed around Cyprus and the Oruc Reis research vessel would travel to the disputed waters after completing research in the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, Donmez said. The Oruc Reis was expected to arrive during August, the minister said.
The EU has announced a series of measures against Turkey over what it calls unlawful activities in Cypriot waters.
EU foreign ministers decided to cut €145.8 million from its €4 billion aid budget to Turkey for next year, suspend high-level membership talks, review the European Investment Bank loans and halt negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement.
Ankara said it was not especially concerned.
“There is no reason to take [EU sanctions] very seriously,” said Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “We have three ships there. God willing we will send a fourth ship to the eastern Mediterranean as soon as possible.”
Famagusta. Picture credit: Wikimedia