Istanbul — Turkey's state-owned TPAO has extended the drilling schedule for its drillship Yavuz in waters offshore Cyprus, a move that appears guaranteed to ramp up tensions further in the region following Ankara's decision a week ago to restart seismic surveying in areas of the East Mediterranean claimed by Greece as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone.
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Turkey's state news agency Anatolia reported Aug. 17 that TPAO had sent a telex via the Navigational Telex system Navtex stating that the Yavuz and three support vessels would be operating in the East Mediterranean southwest of Cyprus between Aug.18 and Sept. 15, warning that it was "strongly recommended not to enter the working area."
The Yavuz and a second Turkish drillship, the Fatih, have both drilled previous wells inside the area claimed by Cyprus as its EEZ. No results of the any of the wells drilled have been announced.
The announcement that the Yavuz would extend its drilling program came after EU foreign ministers met Aug. 14 in an emergency summit convened by EU High Representative Josep Borrell to discuss Turkey's restarting of surveying in waters claimed by Greece.
Following the meeting, the ministers reaffirmed the EU's full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, stating that recent naval mobilizations by Turkey would lead to greater antagonism and distrust, and that "immediate de-escalation by Turkey was considered crucial."
The ministers also warned that the deterioration of relations with Turkey affected the whole EU "well beyond the Eastern Mediterranean" and called for the issues to be addressed through dialog and negotiation in accordance with international law.
In the meantime, Borrell is to prepare options on "further appropriate measures in case tensions do not abate."
The EU in February already imposed sanctions on two TPAO officials as a result of what Brussels described as "unauthorized" drilling offshore Cyprus.
In a tweeted response to the meeting, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said that Turkey was in favor of dialog and negotiation.
Tensions in the region have been running high since Turkey announced last month it would send its survey ship Oruc Reis to survey areas of the East Mediterranean between Turkey and Libya, with the area claimed by Turkey under an agreement last year to establish a maritime border between the two countries, establishing individual EEZs.
Ankara subsequently on July 29 halted surveying following a call by the EU for negotiations with Greece.
However on Aug. 6, Greece and Egypt, neither of which recognizes the Turkey-Libya agreement, announced that they had delineated their own maritime border between the two countries, establishing their own EEZs which overlap with those of Turkey and Libya.
That move included Greece claiming rights over a large swathe of the seabed thanks to a number of small islands located close to the Turkish coast.
Ankara does not recognize the claim, countering that the established legal principle is that such rights are accorded to the country on whose continental shelf the islands are situated.
The East Mediterranean is home to numerous high-profile gas accumulations, including the supergiant 30 Tcf Zohr field offshore Egypt and a number of major gas finds offshore Cyprus.
Ankara has long rejected the right of the government of the Republic of Cyprus to allow prospecting within its claimed maritime zone, prior to an agreement on the reunification of the island, divided into two de-facto states since Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island in 1974.