NICOSIA – Agence France-Presse
Greek Cyprus said on Feb. 3 it would not accept Turkey’s “provocations” after claims a Norwegian ship was ‘harassed’ while surveying for offshore oil and gas reserves.
Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the vessel was undertaking seismic research for French oil giant Total near Blocks 10 and 11 off the south coast when a radio communication ordered it to “abandon position.”
He said the incident came at a time when the United Nations was trying to find a formula for long-stalled Cyprus peace talks to begin.
Officials said that Turkish frigate “Giresun” had ordered Norwegian seismic vessel “Princess” to “leave Turkish waters” while it was within the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The government said it would not be swayed from its aim to exploit energy riches beneath the east Mediterranean.
“Verbal provocation from Ankara does not affect us exercising our sovereignty,” government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said.
“The republic of Cyprus, with a steady confidence given it by international law, will continue its efforts to find hydrocarbons in its EEZ.” Papadopoulos said the incident happened on Feb. 1 when the Turkish warship was some 16.5 nautical miles from the research vessel, “but there was no pursuit as Turkey has alleged.”
Turkey, has reacted angrily to the Greek Cypriot-led internationally recognised government’s search for energy. Ankara has branded Nicosia’s gas hunt as illegal and begun its own exploratory drilling off the north coast.
The almost bankrupt Greek Cyprus government is hoping so far untapped offshore energy resources can pull it back from the financial brink after a banking meltdown prompted an EU-IMF bailout last March.
The eastern Mediterranean has been a hive of exploratory activity, with Greek Cyprus granting permits to international prospectors after Israel discovered massive offshore gas deposits in 2010.
U.S. firm Noble Energy made the first find off Greek Cyprus’s southeast coast in 2011 near the Israeli maritime boundary, in a test well named Aphrodite-1 after the island’s mythical goddess of love.
Based on a preliminary 4.5 trillion cubic feet assessment of reserves by Noble, the government expects a profit of $12-18 billion (9-13 billion euros) over a 14-year period.
Greek Cyprus has signed agreements with Total and a consortium between ENI of Italy and South Korea’s Kogas for oil and gas exploration in its waters. Nicosia is hoping to commercially export its gas, and maybe oil riches, by 2020.