Egypt warns Turkey over East Med economic interests

08 Feb 2018

Egypt on Wednesday warned Turkey against any infringement of its economic rights in the eastern Mediterranean under a maritime border demarcation agreement signed in 2013 with Cyprus that allows exploration for gas in the area.

The discovery of the massive Zohr gas field in 2015 has spurred a race for exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, an area that is believed to hold big natural gas deposits crucial for energy-hungry Europe.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu appeared to raise objections over the 2013 agreement when he announced that Turkey was planning to start exploration work in the eastern Mediterranean soon.

Cavusoglu accused Greek Cypriots of conducting “unilateral hydrocarbon activities in the eastern Mediterranean”.

He was speaking in an interview with Greek Kathimerini newspaper published on Sunday.

“Turkish Cypriots, as co-owners of the island, have inalienable rights to the natural resources around it,” he told the newspaper.

Turkey claims a part of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as belonging to its continental shelf.

In addition, Ankara maintains that exploiting the island’s resources can only take place after a comprehensive settlement, where both communities can share in the wealth.

But Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid warned on Wednesday against any attempt to contest the 2013 accord and said it had been deposited with the United Nations.

“Abu Zeid warned against any attempt to infringe or diminish Egypt’s rights in that area,” the statement said, adding that any such attempt “was rejected and would be confronted”.

Relations between Cairo and Ankara have been strained since then army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

Egypt has started production from the massive Zohr gas field, which was discovered by Italy’s Eni with an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of gas.

ENI and Total may have also made a substantial gas discovery at their Calypso prospect in Cyprus’ offshore block 6, according to reports in the foreign press.

Israeli financial daily Globes reported on Monday that the Calypso field may contain an estimated 170-230 billion cubic metres – corresponding to between 6 and 8.1 trillion cubic feet (tcf).

By comparison, Cyprus’ Aphrodite prospect in block 12 holds an estimated 4.5 tcf of natural gas.

The Globes article comes on the back of statements made late last week by energy minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis, who hinted at a gas find in block 6.

Lakkotrypis had said the findings were encouraging, but that more time was needed for analysis in order to provide final confirmation.

But he did go on to suggest that an announcement from the companies could be imminent.

Citing unnamed Israeli energy sector sources, Globes said rumours of a gas discovery in Cyprus leaked as long as two weeks ago.

State broadcaster CyBC said the minister will announced the results on Thursday.

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