Nicosia.- By Maria Koniotou/CNA
SAIPEM 12000 drillship, commissioned by Italian energy company ENI, to start drilling operations in block 3 of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was halted by five Turkish warships Friday morning while making a new effort to reach Soupia target, which it was unable to fulfil due to Turkish threats.
Deputy Government Spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos told the Cyprus News Agency, that after consultations between Italian company ENI and SAIPEM 12000, the captain of the drillship tried once again to drive the ship towards the Soupia (Cuttlefish) target to conduct its drilling operations.
“During its course towards block 3 and the Soupia target the drillship was halted by five Turkish warships and after threats of violence launched (by the Turks) and the threat of a collision with the drillship, despite the courageous and commendable efforts made by the captain unfortunately the drillship was compelled to return back,” Papadopoulos noted.
He underlined the determination of the Cypriot government to exercise its sovereign rights in its EEZ as well as the determination of ENI and the captain of the drillship to proceed towards the Soupia target with a view to conduct the drilling operations.
This is what exactly happened during the previous time that the drillship was halted by the Turkish warships, Papadopoulos noted, recalling that the previous Turkish NAVTEX expired on the 22nd. A new NAVTEX which has been issued by the Turks expires on March 10.
Papadopoulos said that the whole incident has been video-recorded and the conversations that took place during the incident have also been recorded and will be used at all international fora to which the Republic of Cyprus will denounce the new Turkish provocations and illegal actions, the Deputy Spokesman concluded.
Two weeks ago Saipem had to halt its transfer journey to block 3 of Cyprus EEZ, when it was stopped by Turkish military ships with a notice not to continue because there would be military activities in the destination area.
Dogan News Agency released the radio communication between the captain of the Saipem and the captain of the Turkish navy vessel that had blocked its route to plot 3 on February 9.
The captain of the Saipem reportedly warned the Turkish vessel to get out of its way, ‘otherwise we will both sink’ and the Turkish warship’s captain replying ‘I cannot control our speed and our path’.
The Saipem captain reportedly replied ‘you can control your speed and your machines. I can clearly see that’, but the Turkish vessel continued its course forcing the Saipem 12000 to change its own course.
Following Friday’s incident, the Saipem will be sailing Morocco after a brief stop off Limassol.
Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis confirmed that Saipem would be sailing to Morocco where ENI has contractual obligations.
“All this time we let diplomacy work and since there was no result we made another effort to approach the target but the drillship was forced to leave after the threat of violence,” he said. “Despite it being a negative development as regards the drill at Cuttlefish, we will continue to implement our energy plans.”
Turkey claims it is acting on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots who also have rights on the island’s natural resources.
The breakaway regime in the north declared an ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ of its own, which in effect claims that half of Cyprus’ EEZ belongs to them, including blocks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12 and 13.
Turkey also has claims on parts of various blocks in Cyprus’ EEZ saying the areas in question form part of its continental shelf. The claim includes part of blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, to the south and southwest of the island.
Reports said Turkey is expected to start oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean in March.