Minister: Turkish navy could escort exploration ships off Cyprus

Energy Minister Taner Yıldız. (Photo: AA)

September 19, 2011, Monday/ 11:25:00

Turkey called on Monday for the Greek Cypriot government to immediately halt gas exploration work off Cyprus with Texas-based Noble Energy and said Turkish naval ships could escort Turkish energy exploration ships in the Mediterranean.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız told reporters that a planned agreement between Turkey and Turkish Cyprus setting out maritime boundaries would result in the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) effectively having a presence in the waters off of northern Cyprus.

Yıldız said the agreement was ready to be signed, and added that the TPAO could start gas exploration in the Mediterranean as early as next week.

"We can say that Turkish naval ships may escort Turkish seismic ships doing exploration in the Mediterranean Sea," Yıldız said.

Texas-based Noble Energy, under license from the Greek Cypriot government, is expected to start exploratory drilling imminently on a block southeast of the island, despite protests from Turkey which say any reserves around the island belong not only to Greek Cypriots but also Turkish Cypriots.

The involvement Noble, which already sent a rig to the area, further complicates the problem for Turkey.

"Our wish is that we do not reach such a point, and that the work they are undertaking with Noble comes to an end before it even begins," Yıldız told reporters.

Turkey had discussed the issue with US officials, but not with the company itself, Yıldız said, adding the risks for the company are considerable. "I do not think they will undertake such a work in such a risky area, from a technical and a feasibility point of view," said Yıldız.

Last week, Turkey announced it will sign an agreement on the delineation of the continental shelf with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) if Greek Cyprus moves ahead with its plans to drill for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Greek Cypriot government is internationally recognized as representing the whole island, while the KKTC is recognized only by Turkey, which does not recognize Greek Cyprus.

Yıldız said the Greek Cypriot plans to begin gas exploration in Mediterranean were a “provocation” and added, “We will all see how we respond.”