Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Cyprus has complained to the United Nations, saying a Turkish warship harassed two oil and gas exploration vessels earlier this month, documents showed yesterday. The move is likely to cast a shadow over talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus, an island divided along ethnic lines after Turkey invaded in 1974 and occupied the north. “The two ships were forced, by the Turkish warship, to cease their operations and withdraw within the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus, under fear for the lives of their crews and the integrity of the ships,” Cypriot President Demetris Christofias said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released yesterday. The foreign-flagged exploration ships were carrying out surveys on November 13 on behalf of the Greek Cypriot government when the incident occurred, Cyprus said in its formal protest. Last year, Cypriot moves to tap potential deepwater reserves in the Mediterranean angered Turkey, with Ankara declaring that oil and gas exploration could upset negotiating efforts. The reunification talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots commenced in September and are expected to continue into 2009.“The gravity of the incident cannot be overstated, taking into account the crucial time in relation to the efforts for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem,” said Christofias in the November 14 letter. “I can only convey the dismay of my government over what transpired,” he said. Cypriot authorities had not disclosed the incident before. Greek Cypriots have defined eleven offshore blocks south and south east of the island for hydrocarbon exploration, with large areas still uncharted. A senior Cypriot energy official said on November 21 that authorities were close to awarding an exploration contract to a US based firm for one of the blocks, and that negotiations were ongoing with two more companies for a further two blocks. The island planned to hold a second licensing round, a process where companies express an interest in exploration, in June next year, he said. Christofias said the vessels were 27 miles off the south coast of the island when the incident occurred. They were within, he said, Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Turkish warship said they were in the Turkish zone. Such a zone defines a maritime boundary, normally 200 nautical miles from the shore, within which a country maintains exploitation rights.