As Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras were expected to bring up the issue of Turkey’s intervention in the island’s exclusive economic zone in the context of the EU Heads of State Informal Meeting in Brussels on Friday, Italian energy major ENI was reportedly pulling away temporarily from Block 3, off the coast of Cyprus, following a “near collision” of the Saipem drillship with a Turkish warship.

ENI’s Saipem 12000 was reportedly forced to change course on Friday morning after being intercepted by five Turkish war ships and threatened with violent confrontation while attempting again to head to the offshore Block 3 to drill an exploratory gas well, CyprusMail quoted Deputy Government Spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos as saying on Friday.

Earlier in February, a similar incident occurred when Saipem initially headed to Block 3, but was blocked by Turkish navy vessels.

ENI spokesman Spina Domenico told New Europe on Friday “there is nothing else to add on the topic at the moment” and referred to ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi’s statements to the press a day earlier that ENI will probably have to move the drillship blocked by Turkey off Cyprus, but will not relinquish its interests in the area.

“We’re used to having potential disputes … we did not pull out of Libya or other countries where there were complicated situations,” Reuters quoted Descalzi as saying on the sidelines of an event.

This week, Turkey reportedly issued a new navigational advisory extending military training in the area to March 10 from February 22.

ENI announced on February 9 that it had made a lean gas discovery in Block 6 Offshore Cyprus with Calypso 1 NFW “with excellent reservoir characteristics”. ENI is the Operator of Block 6 with 50% of participation interest while Total is partner with the remaining 50%.

ENI has been present in Cyprus since 2013 and detains interests in six licenses located in the EEZ of Cyprus in Blocks 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 11, five of which are operated.

Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on Friday that ENI’s “drilling in Block 3 is postponed and it is certainly of concern”.

In effect, gunboat diplomacy against a EU member state appears to have won the day. The issues are complex, but this is not a way to resolve them. President Anastasiades has gone to great measures to assure Turkish Cypriots that with the elections over he is keen to resume negotiations”.

Ellinas also said that the Cypriot President had reiterated in some detail that any benefits out of hydrocarbons are for the benefit of all Cypriots and the mechanisms have already been agreed to safeguard Turkish Cypriot interests.

“At the end of the day all such issues can be resolved only through negotiation, not through exertion of naval power in the high seas. Hopefully sense will prevail and will enable exploration to resume for the benefit of all Cypriots,” Ellinas told New Europe.

He noted that while the gas industry and global gas markets are evolving fast, becoming more competitive, and low priced, “the longer we delay the development of Cyprus natural gas the more the risk that it will remain stranded. Then nobody will benefit”.

Turning to the EU Council meeting where Anastasiades is seeking EU support, Ellinas stressed that Cyprus is a member state of the European Union and Nicosia’s rights to develop the Mediterranean island’s resources and Cyprus’ security must also concern the EU.

“The EU should not carry on negotiating with Turkey in good faith without safeguarding the rights of its member states. As a result, as part of any future negotiations the EU should demand that Turkey refrains from aggressive actions and returns to the negotiating table,” Ellinas said, stressing that the EU may also be in a better position to provide the reassurances that Turkish Cypriots are asking for, that their interests will not be overlooked.

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