NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus’ government spokesman on Thursday backpedaled on a claim that Turkey may have stolen technical data it used to pinpoint a target for gas drilling in waters where the island nation has exclusive economic rights.
Government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos told The Associated Press the word “stolen” he uttered on Greece’s state broadcaster ERT on Wednesday was a mistaken “a slip of the tongue” and that no such data theft had occurred.
But he said Turkey had obtained some data that enabled it to send a drill ship to a specific location south of the Cypriot coastal town of Limassol that energy companies Eni and Total had pre-selected to carry out their own exploratory drilling.
Koushos said that data may have been gleaned from a Turkish research vessel that had for months scoured the area — also known as Block 8 — in search of geological information that could hint at gas deposits locked underneath the seabed.
The spokesman also said it’s unclear whether Turkish authorities may have obtained some information about Block 8 from the Cypriot Environment Ministry’s own website that had posted Eni-provided geological data about the area back in 2017.
Koushos said that data had to be made public in accordance with existing laws at the time. But those laws were amended in 2018.
Turkey’s drilling activities have ratcheted up tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Cyprus has denounced Turkey as a “pirate state” for what it calls a flagrant breach of international law after repeatedly sending warship-escorted vessels to drill for gas inside exclusive economic zone, including areas where Italy’s ENI and Total of France are licensed to carry out a hydrocarbon search.
Turkey insists it’s acting to protect its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the region’s energy reserves. Turkey, which doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state, claims a large section of Cyprus’ economic zone as falling within its own continental shelf. It also says drilling activities are being carried out following agreements with Turkish Cypriots whose declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but only the southern part where the internationally recognized government is seated enjoys full membership.