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Turkey to start drilling for gas off Cyprus

A drillship in Cyprus; discovered offshore gas could stoke tension with Turkey [Getty Image]

Date of publication: 22 February, 2019

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The discovery of gas field in the eastern Mediterranean has led to claims from both the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government and Ankara, backing the breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration.

Two Turkish ships will begin drilling in search of oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus in the coming days, Turkey's foreign minister said on Thursday, in a move that could provoke conflict.

The recent discovery of gigantic gas field in the eastern Mediterranean has resulted in claims from both the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government and Ankara, which backs a breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration in the island's north.

"We will start drilling operations off Cyprus, with two ships, in the coming days," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency.

European Union member Cyprus has been seeking to develop the offshore gas deposits through exploratory drilling commissioned from energy giants ENi, Total and ExxonMobil, while Turkey claims this exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the natural resource.

Analysts fear escalating tensions over the resources could result in a major standoff.

"We will not stop searching for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean simply because the Greek Cypriots do not want it," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday.

A drillship for Italy's Eni abandoned an attempt to search for gas off Cyprus after it was blocked by Turkish warships in February 2018.

Erdogan warned foreign oil companies over energy exploration off Cyprus in November 2018, describing those who defy Ankara as "bandits of the sea" who would face a similar response as its foes in Syria.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

The Turkish-populated northern part of the island then declared the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is recognised only by Ankara. UN-backed efforts to reunify the island have so far come to nothing.

Texas-based Noble Energy in 2011 made the first discovery off Cyprus in the Aphrodite block estimated to contain around 4.5 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The discovery of nearby Egypt's huge Zohr offshore reservoir in 2015 has stoked hopes that Cypriot waters hold further riches.

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