Non-Turkish firms drilling gas off Cyprus face legal action
Ankara project conducted over ‘median line’ could bring fines and imprisonment
Drilling vessel Yavuz: set to arrive off the eastern coast of Cyprus to drill for gas. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis
Cyprus has lodged legal proceedings against non-Turkish firms involved in Ankara’s natural gas drilling operations conducted within the island’s continental shelf.
The targeted companies are “co-operating with the TPAO”, the state-owned Turkish petroleum company, a senior foreign ministry official said on Tuesday.
He did not name the foreign companies but said about 20 individuals, including directors, could face fines of €1 million and five years’ imprisonment for their participation in drilling carried out by the Turkish drill ship Fatih, which was deployed to the west of the island in May.
The source said Cyprus was “determined to do the same with the Yavuz”, referring to a second drill ship set to arrive off the eastern coast of the island. Turkey does not have the ships, equipment and expertise to exploit undersea gas deposits and must rely on foreign assistance.
The official said that Cyprus’s continental shelf coincides with its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which has been defined by the “median line” between the island and its mainland neighbours, Egypt, Israel and Lebanon. The borders of the EEZ , he said, mark “the maritime limits of EU, not just Cyprus”.
Turkey does not recognise the “median line”.
In reply to a question on possible EU measures against Turkey for drilling in Cyprus’s EEZ, the official said that “discussions are ongoing” in Brussels and Cyprus is waiting for the European Council to submit options. He expects “some things can be done in July and others finalised in July and implemented later on”.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said: “What Turkey is doing in the territorial waters of Cyprus is totally unacceptable.” He said the measures to be taken would “not be soft”.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded: “Turkey will continue to defend the interests of the [Turkish Cypriots] along with its own interests.”
The European Council “will decide which measures are most effective”, the official said. “I cannot say everything is rosy. We will see [how to proceed] when we have a result” of the consultations.
He said Europe needs natural gas, which can be delivered from the eastern Mediterranean through a pipeline from Cyprus to Greece and from there to the European hinterland.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied the north following a coup mounted by the Athens military junta.
The Cypriot government has pledged to share with Turkish Cypriots revenues from the exploitation of the country’s natural gas, which are to be paid into a sovereign wealth fund.