NICOSIA: Five Turkish warships threatened to engage an Italian drillship Friday as it tried to break a blockade and explore for gas off the coast of Cyprus, Cypriot officials said.
Deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said the drillship of Italy’s energy giant Eni was trying to explore block 3 off the island’s south coast, following a Turkish blockade since February 9.
“On its course toward block 3 it was blocked by five Turkish warships, and after threats to use force and engage with the drillship, despite the courageous efforts of the captain, it was forced to turn back,” Papadopoulos told the Cyprus News Agency.
Eni chief Claudio Descalzi played down the two-week standoff, telling journalists in Italy that his company would not abandon its exploration off Cyprus but await a diplomatic solution to start operations.
“We are used to the possibility of disputes. We didn’t leave Libya or other countries where there had been complex situations,” he said.
“This is the last of my worries. We are completely calm,” said the Eni chief executive.
“It is very probable that in the next few days we will have to move” the ship to another country as originally planned, Descalzi said.
“And then we will return (to Cyprus) to await a solution from international diplomacy.”
However, Cypriot Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis said that diplomatic efforts, notably by the European Union, had so far failed to break the standoff.
“We left room for diplomacy, hoping that a solution could be found… Today we made one last effort… but that was not possible because of Turkey’s stance,” he told the private television station Sigma.
On Wednesday, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, said Nicosia would continue its energy exploration regardless of Turkish threats.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to “overstep the mark” in the politically sensitive waters off the coast of the divided island.
Ankara has been stringent in defending the claims of Turkish Cypriots for a share of energy resources, despite Greek Cypriot assurances that they would benefit both communities.
The standoff over energy resources risks further complicating stalled efforts to reunify Cyprus following the collapse of UN-brokered talks last year.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup.
While the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus is an EU member and internationally recognised, the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara.—AFP