by Aggelos Skordas
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is escalating tension in the Eastern Mediterranean once again, after recent remarks that he is now sending a hydrocarbon exploration vessel into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Amid searches conducted by state-run Qatar Petroleum Consortium, Western energy companies, including US Exxon Mobil, and the presence of US Sixth Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean, Erdogan said his country is ready to protect its own and the Turkish Cypriots’ rights to natural resources.
Specifically, during an inauguration ceremony to launch natural gas services for 101 districts at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, the Turkish President underlined that any activity in Cyprus’ EEZ needs to be approved and include both sides. “Turkish and Greek Cyprus should form a joint committee for drilling activities and both sides should get their fair share of the island's natural resources based on their populations”, he characteristically said.
Moreover, he underlined that Ankara’s stance towards drilling activities off the shores of Cyprus “had hopefully been instructive for some who saw an opportunity to start unilateral moves in the region when Turkey is engaged in anti-terrorism operations elsewhere”, referring to the Turkish Navy’s aggressive harassment of Italian ENI oil and gas company’s drilling rig “Saipem 12000” conducting searches in Cyprus’ EEZ block 3 earlier on March.
On his behalf, Italian Ambassador to Cyprus Andrea Cavallari declared that ENI is not withdrawing from Cyprus despite Ankara's threats. During a meeting with ruling Democratic Rally (DISY) President Averof Neophytou in Niocsia on Tuesday, Cavallari had “reaffirmed the position -as it has been publicly expressed- of the Italian company that it will not leave Cyprus and that it will continue its planning on the basis of its contractual obligations”.
Erdogan revealed that Turkey’s first drilling vessel will soon depart to start operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.