February 23, 2018 / 1:49 PM / 4 months ago

Cyprus accuses Turkey of blocking ship again in gas exploration standoff

ATHENS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Cyprus accused Turkey on Friday of threatening to use force against a drillship chartered by Italy’s Eni, in a standoff over hydrocarbons rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

There was no immediate reaction from Turkey, which has vowed to prevent Greek Cypriots from exploring for oil or gas around the ethnically-split island and says some areas of Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone fall under its jurisdiction.

On Feb. 9, the Turkish navy on manoeuvres in the Mediterranean stopped the Saipem 12000 vessel on its way to drill for gas in the waters off Cyprus, triggering a diplomatic standoff which has underscored tensions in the region over competing claims for offshore resources.

Deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos told the Cyprus News Agency on Friday the ship was heading to the same area, when five Turkish vessels interrupted its course.

“The drillship was halted by five Turkish warships and after threats of violence launched (by the Turkish side) and the threat of a collision with the drillship ... the drillship was compelled to return back,” he said.

Turkey, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, this week extended military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean to March 10.

The Saipem 12000 vessel is currently on its way to Limassol where it is expected to stay for a few days, the agency said. Eni said on Thursday it was likely the ship would have to be moved in the coming days, probably to Morocco.

Cyprus will officially protest to international forums over the latest incident, Papadopooulos said.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades was expected to discuss the issue with European Union leaders who are meeting in Brussels on Friday. He said this week that Cyprus was determined to press ahead with its plans for oil and gas exploration.

Eni and France’s Total discovered this month a promising natural gas field off Cyprus, which they said looked geologically similar to the mammoth Zohr field off Egypt.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup. Peace talks collapsed last year. Greek Cypriots, who are exploring for natural gas, run Cyprus’s internationally recognised government. Turkish Cypriots run a breakaway state in north Cyprus recognised only by Ankara. (Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Additional reporting Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Mark Potter)

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