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Reuters: Cyprus Says Turk Firms Oil Search Plans Break Law

A Turkish oil company would be violating international law if it went ahead with plans to explore for hydrocarbons in a sea area already claimed by Cyprus, the island’s energy minister said on Tuesday.

The company, TPAO, has opened a tender for seismic studies on a 4,000 km (2,485 mile) area in the Mediterranean, apparently falling within an offshore area Cyprus plans to open for exploration.

Cyprus, which has been at loggerheads with Turkey for decades, has said it is still checking the report, which appeared on TPAO’s website on Sunday.

“If this is true it would be in violation of international law,” Energy Minister Antonis Michaelides said on state radio.

“If it plans to carry out research within this zone, then obviously it will be violating the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus.”

Cypriot officials said it was not clear precisely where TPAO planned to carry out research.

Ethnically-divided Cyprus launched an international licensing round for offshore exploration of oil and gas in February. It plans to open 11 blocks rimming the island’s southern coast for exploration, covering a distance of about 70,000 square kilometres.

Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 in response to a brief Greek inspired coup and does not recognise the island’s internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government which has launched the project.

Cyprus has attempted to play down reports Turkey may be poised to challenge its plans.

“It is very premature to make a fuss over this,” said Michaelides.

Turkey’s ambitions of joining the European Union hinge in part on resolving its row with Cyprus, which joined the bloc in 2004.

Cyprus’s present hydrocarbon project, or licensing round, involves oil majors purchasing seismic data and two-dimensional templates of the Mediterranean sea bed. It will be available for sale until the end of August, and then companies can apply for exploration permits.

Authorities say they have encouraging signs of oil and particularly gas deposits on the sea bed. Part of the offshore area, known as an economic exploitation zone, abuts Egypt’s NEMED block, where Shell is extracting natural gas.

Published: May 08, 2007 12:27h

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