Greek Cyprus issues arrest warrant for Turkish drillship Fatih’s personnel, hiking tensions

The Greek Cypriot Administration issued an international arrest warrant for 25 people including the personnel of the Turkish drillship Fatih and officials from companies cooperating with the state-run Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO).

Greek Cyprus obtained the personal data of the employees of Fatih drillship working 36.5 nautical miles off the coast of the western city of Paphos in the Mediterranean, according to the Greek Cypriot daily Phileleftheros which carried the issue to its headline on Monday.

The Greek Cypriot foreign ministry then started working to issue an international arrest warrant and the Greek Cypriot presidency applied to a district court in Nicosia last week, which issued the warrant.

There are British and Turkish nationals working on the Fatih drillship, in addition to TPAO's cooperation with two American and one Croatian companies with expertise in drilling.

The Fatih vessel is currently located in an area within Turkey's continental shelf which is also claimed by Greek Cyprus within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). However, it is not among the areas unilaterally licensed by Nicosia for hydrocarbons.

Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hami Aksoy said in a statement that Turkey closely monitors the developments and if true, the Greek Cypriot Administration's arrest warrant would be null and void for Ankara. "If it dares to (arrest Fatih's employees), no one should doubt that we will give the necessary response," Aksoy said.

"The Greek Cyriot Administration taking such a decision for a sea area claimed for itself and not demarcated in line with international law with a so-called national authorization does not comply with international law. That's why we will launch counter judicial procedures with related institutions," he added.

Aksoy noted that such efforts to stop Turkey from exploration on its continental shelf would prove unfruitful. He added that oil and gas exploration and drilling will continue with determination as planned to protect Turkey's own rights on its continental shelf and protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots, who are equal partners of Cyprus.

Ersin Tatar, the prime minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, slammed the warrant and accused the Greek Cypriots of unlawfulness and injustice by signing deals and carrying exploration by ignoring Turkish Cypriot rights.

"The Greek Cypriot Administration and those who are cooperating with it are trying to exclude Turkey and the TRNC for their own interests and usurp our rights as they wish… But it should be known that no one can ignore Turkish Cypriot people and Turkey's rights in the eastern Mediterranean, or force us and Turkey to back down from our rights," Tatar said.

"I'd like to call on the Greek Administration issuing arrest warrant for 25 people regarding works of Fatih drillship once again to refrain from steps certain not to produce results and come to terms with us. We will either settle within the frame of fairness and justice, or we will do what they do within the principle of reciprocity. We are in favor of handling the hydrocarbon issue along with Greek authorities and resolving it separately from efforts to solve the Cyprus question, thinking that such a step would contribute to settling the issue," he said.

"We warn the U.N. and third parties that we will not be responsible for the consequences stemming from the Greek party constantly refusing this proposal and taking decisions that increase tensions," he added.

TRNC Economy and Energy Minister Hasan Taçoy said the international arrest warrant is unacceptable and is not binding by international rules, adding that a counter step will be taken.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey used its guarantor rights to intervene on the island after a far-right Greek Cypriot military coup sponsored by the military junta then in power in Athens sought to unite the island with Greece. The coup followed decadelong inter-ethnic violence and terrorism targeting Turkish Cypriots, who were forced to live in enclaves when Greek Cypriots unilaterally changed the constitution in 1963 and stripped the island's Turks of their political rights.

The TRNC, established in 1983 on the northern one-third of the island, is only recognized by Turkey and faces a longstanding embargo in commerce, transportation and culture. Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriot Administration enjoys recognition by the international community as the Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960, which is a member of the EU.

Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot Administration's unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Turkish Cypriots also have rights to the resources in the area. The unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone of the Greek Cypriot Administration violates part of Turkey's shelf, particularly in Blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Saying unilateral exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island's natural resources, Turkey has ramped up efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean and sent its first drilling vessel, Fatih, to the area east of Cyprus until Sept. 3.

Turkey's first seismic vessel, the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, bought from Norway in 2013, has been carrying out exploration in the Mediterranean since April 2017.

"Our Turkish kinsmen in northern Cyprus also have rights according to international law in the same way that (Greek Cyprus) has rights on all resources in the region, be it oil or something else. We will not allow these rights to be usurped by those who have no business (there)," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week, referring to Greek Cypriot Administration's recent renegotiation of a deal with international companies on the distribution of revenues from natural gas exploitation from the Aphrodite gas field in the Eastern Mediterranean. Nicosia renegotiated a contract with a consortium made up of Dutch-British Shell, Texas-Based Noble Energy and Israel's Delek that paves the way for the exploitation of an offshore field that is estimated to hold 4.1 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Erdoğan said that Turkey's drill ships and exploration vessels, protected by Turkish frigates, are also resuming efforts in the region.

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