17:19 GMT17 February 2020
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    Turkey resumed gas exploration drilling in the Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus’s coast last week amid overlapping claims between Nicosia and the Turkish-backed de facto state of Northern Cyprus regarding the extent of their maritime economic zones.

    Cyprus authorities have accused Ankara of acting like a ‘pirate state’ over its plans to continue exploratory gas drilling around the Mediterranean island.

    “Turkey is turning into a pirate state in the eastern Mediterranean,” the Cypriot presidency said in a statement cited by AFP late Sunday. “Turkey insists on going down the path of international illegality,” the statement added.

    A Turkish drilling ship resumed exploratory drilling for gas in the south of the island on Friday, citing Turkish Cypriots’ rights to the maritime zone under a 2011 license agreement granted to Turkish Petroleum by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity considered by the international community to be part of the Republic of Cyprus under Turkish occupation, but classified by Ankara to be a full-fledged state.

    The European Union called on Turkey to drop its drilling plans Saturday, calling Ankara’s activities “illegal” and threatening sanctions against individuals or companies engaged in the drilling. “The international law of the sea, the principle of good neighbourly relations and the sovereignty and sovereign rights over the maritime zones of all Member States have to be respected,” the EU said in a statement. Sanctions may be discussed by EU foreign ministers in Brussels later Monday, the bloc warned.

    Cyprus first discovered offshore gas reserves in 2011, but has been stuck in a dispute involving Nicosia, Greece, Israel and Turkey, with each of the parties competing for gas production and potentially lucrative pipeline rights ever since.

    The Mediterranean island has been divided between Greek Cyprus and the Northern Turkish Cyprus since the 1974 Turkish invasion, with Ankara being the only country in the world recognizing the latter’s claims to statehood. The Cypriot government and the international community consider Northern Cyprus to be part of the Greek Cypriot-governed Republic of Cyprus.

    Turkish energy companies backed by Turkish Navy warships have repeatedly attempted to drill off Cypriot coastal waters in recent months, maintaining that Ankara is protecting the rights of Turkish Cypriots to share in the island’s wealth. Ankara maintains that some areas where the internationally-recognized government has gas exploration operations belong to Turkey’s continental shelf, or areas claimed by Northern Cyprus.

    Ankara has also accused the EU of “double standards” over its threats to sanction Turkish entities for the drilling activities, with Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Askoy accusing the bloc Sunday of staying silent before the usurpation “of our countries and the Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.”

    In late November, Turkey and the Libyan Tripoli-based Government of National Accord signed a memorandum which outlined a new maritime border running through a zone of the Mediterranean which Greece and Cyprus also lay claim to. Earlier this month, officials from Cyprus, Greece and Israel signed a gas pipeline megadeal for delivering billions of tonnes of gas to Europe, with part of the route claimed by Turkey. The pipeline, known as EastMed, runs 1,900 km, and is expected to cost $6 billion, and to deliver gas from deposits in the southeastern Mediterranean Basin to Europe via Greece and Italy.

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