October 14, 2019 / 3:59 PM / a month ago

Turkey's gas exploration off Cyprus raises tensions

(Reuters) - Turkey’s exploration for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean has ramped up tensions with Cyprus and prompted the European Union to scale back contacts with Ankara.

The internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government and the European Union accuse Turkey of violating Cyprus’ maritime economic zone by drilling off the divided island. Turkey says it is operating in waters on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights.

The two countries have been at odds since the 1974 ethnic conflict that split the island between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations.

Here is a timeline of main developments in the drilling dispute over the past eight years:

Aug 18, 2011 - A U.S. firm will start exploratory drilling for natural gas off Cyprus in October, Cypriot officials say, despite warnings from Turkey that the move could upset peace talks.

Sept 19, 2011 - Cyprus has begun the process of exploratory offshore drilling for gas, its energy chief says.

April 26, 2012 - Turkey begins onshore drilling for oil and gas in breakaway northern Cyprus, straining tensions with Greek Cypriots.

March 22, 2017 - Cyprus will move ahead with further licensing for oil drilling after analysing the results of its most recent exploration, the country’s energy minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis says. Cyprus announces the completion of a third round of licensing for well drilling in which Exxon Mobil, Italy’s ENI and France’s Total win additional offshore blocks.

Feb 9, 2018 - The Turkish navy, on manoeuvres in the Mediterranean, stops the Saipem 12000 vessel, charted by Italy’s ENI, as it makes its way to drill for gas in the waters off Cyprus, triggering a diplomatic standoff.

Feb 23, 2018 - Cyprus accuses Turkey of threatening to use force [here] against the Saipem 12000.

Feb 21, 2019 - Turkey will begin drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus in coming days, state-owned news agency Anadolu quotes Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying.

May 2019 - Turkey sends its drill ship Fatih to an area west of Cyprus

May 9, 2019 - European Council President Donald Tusk says the European Union stands behind Cyprus in the dispute with Turkey over offshore drilling operations.

June 13, 2019 - Cyprus has issued arrest warrants for the crew of the Fatih and auxiliary vessels which are anchored close to its coast for allegedly infringing territory over which the island has rights to explore for oil and gas, a foreign ministry official says.

June 20, 2019 - A second Turkish drilling ship, Yavuz, will operate off the Karpas peninsula to the northeast of Cyprus, Melih Han Bilgin, the general manager of Turkey’s main oil exploration company Turkiye Petrolleri (TPAO) says.

July 8, 2019 - The European Union says Turkey’s plan to drill for oil and gas off Cyprus is of grave concern and an unacceptable escalation of tensions surrounding the Mediterranean island.

July 15, 2019 - EU foreign ministers suspend negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and agree not to hold the Association Council and further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being.

Aug 7, 2019 - Greece, Israel, Cyprus and the United States agree to enhance cooperation in energy, cyber and infrastructure security, Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis says after ministers of the four countries met in Athens.

Sept 27, 2019 - Donmez says the Yavuz has completed operations in Karpaz, while the Fatih continues operations west of Cyprus.

Oct 3, 2019 - Turkey says it is sending the Yavuz to waters off southern Cyprus where Greek Cypriot authorities have already awarded exploration rights to Italian and French companies.

Oct 4, 2019 - Cyprus says Turkey’s action in sending a drill ship to an area Nicosia has licensed for offshore hydrocarbons exploration is a ‘severe escalation’ of what it called Ankara’s violations of the island’s sovereign rights

Oct 5, 2019 - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says there are rules in exploring energy resources in the Mediterranean, warning Turkey not to engage in drilling activity that is “illegal” and “unacceptable”.

Oct 14, 2019 - EU foreign ministers agree to draw up a list of economic sanctions against Turkish oil and gas drilling activities in waters off Cyprus.

Reporting by Berna Syuleymanoglu and Oben Mumcuoglu in Gdansk; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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