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Turkish search for oil off Cyprus stokes tension with EU

25 June 2019

Turkey has sent a second drillship to waters in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by European Union member Cyprus. Reuters quoted Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez as saying that the drillship Yavuz, owned by state oil and gas group TPAO, would operate off the Karpas Peninsula, which since the 1974 invasion has been occupied by Turkey and its client Northern Cypriot Turkish offshoot.

Drillship Yavuz - Image: TPAO
Drillship Yavuz - Image: TPAO

Turkey already has a ship offshore Cyprus, and Cyprus last week issued arrest warrants for its crew.

Turkey and the internationally-recognised government of Cyprus have overlapping claims in that part of the Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich in natural gas.

Turkey, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, claims that certain areas in Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone, known as an EEZ, fall under the jurisdiction of Turkey or of Turkish Cypriots, who have their own self-declared state, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Turkey, and is internationally isolated.

At a Brussels summit, EU leaders warned Turkey to halt its gas drilling in disputed waters or face action from the bloc.

The EU has told Turkey it will face “targeted measures” if it does not stop drilling which could mean possible travel bans and asset freezes of Turkish companies and individuals involved in the drilling.

In a statement on the issue after the European Council summit on Thursday it said it would ask its foreign service, the European External Action Service, to put forward options.

One senior EU official said that, aside from sanctions, one option was to end talks with Turkey over extending a customs union, which already allows tariff-free trade with the EU for industrial goods but not services or agriculture.

Another option could be formally suspending Turkey’s status as an official candidate to become a member of the European Union, although talks have been frozen for over a year due to concerns about the direction of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

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