THE NOBLE rig Homer Ferrington yesterday took its place in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) ahead of the start of drilling next week under the watchful eye of Turkey’s navy and air force.
According to a Defence Ministry source, Turkish navy ships and planes watched from a distance as the rig was moved from Israel’s offshore field Noa where it completed drilling to Cyprus’ Block 12, also known as the Aphrodite field.
The source clarified that the Turkish ships and planes did not violate Cyprus’ territorial waters or air space.
The Homer rig is due to start exploratory drilling in Aphrodite as early as this Monday in a climate of tense rhetoric as the Turkish leadership continues to question the rights of Israel and Cyprus to drill in for hydrocarbon reserves in their respective EEZs.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement yesterday saying it would sign a pact with the breakaway state if Cyprus insisted on going ahead with drilling.
“It has been agreed that Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will conclude a continental shelf delimitation agreement should the Greek Cypriot administration proceed with offshore drilling activities in the south of the island,” said Turkey’s foreign ministry.
It did not elaborate on what that agreement would entail but said it had decided on the measure at a meeting in Turkey between Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials, adding that further meetings would take place in northern Cyprus today.
According to a UN convention on maritime law, continental shelf delimitation refers to a coastal country’s territorial boundaries beyond its territorial sea but those boundaries are subject to a series of complex clauses.
To date, Turkey and Greece are in dispute over the size of the Greek islands’ continental shelf lying in the Aegean, having avoided war over the issue in the 11th hour in 1996.
The Turkish Cypriot leadership’s top aide Kudret Ozersay yesterday told the Cyprus Mail that Turkish Cypriots would avoid signing the pact with Turkey if Cyprus called off its plans to drill in its southern EEZ.
Houston-based Noble Energy has a licence to drill in Cyprus’ Block 12, while Israeli company Delek also has an option to participate. The two companies are partners in explorations for hydrocarbon reserves in Israel’s gas fields. The Mediterranean basin is believed to have substantial quantities of deposits.
The war rhetoric was turned up a notch yesterday as the Homer rig took its place under Turkish surveillance while Turkey’s navy carried out war exercises in the Aegean. The naval exercises were planned long in advance.
According to state broadcaster CyBC, Turkey had 17 warships in total (three frigates, seven corvette gunships and seven torpedo gunboats) in the Aegean, moving between the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kastelorizo. One online news site reported that the National Guard (NG) had been put on a state of alert along with reservist soldiers.
A Defence Ministry source last night denied the reports, saying the NG was in a state of preparedness, not alert, as it always was, and that no reservists had been called. The military was watching developments closely, added the source.
Defence Minister Demetris Eliades is due in Athens today to have talks with his Greek counterpart Panos Beglitis. The two ministers also share a close friendship going back many years.
Speaking after meeting with US diplomats on the island, Eliades said he hoped the international community would not allow unpleasant developments to take place in the region.
He thanked the US for its stance on Cyprus’ aim to explore its energy resources.
A State Department spokesman yesterday repeated US support for efforts to enhance energy diversity in Europe, noting the fact a US company was involved was “also positive”.
According to CyBC, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu had a late night phone conversation on Wednesday, enacting their security cooperation agreement signed almost two weeks ago.
The taut climate in the region was enhanced yesterday when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned again that Turkish warships could be deployed to the eastern Mediterranean at any time.
During a visit to Tunis yesterday as part of his ‘Arab Spring tour’, Erdogan told a news conference: “Israel cannot do whatever it wants in the eastern Mediterranean. They will see what our decisions will be on this subject. Our navy attack ships can be there at any moment.”
Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bagis was quoted saying Turkey would not remain a bystander if oil and gas exploration was carried out in disputed waters.
“If they want, let the TRNC and the Greek Cypriot administration of south Cyprus search for oil together,” he said.
Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis said yesterday Cyprus was keeping the UN Security Council members informed of the latest threats on a regular basis. Until now, Cyprus “fully satisfied” with the network of political support, she added.
Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregoris Delavekouras said Cyprus has the self-evident sovereign right to exploit its natural resources, adding, “nobody can doubt that”.
The Greek spokesman said: “We hope that Turkey will behave calmly and will not contribute to even more tension”.