Turkey says drill ships still working off Cyprus, another ship en route

(Updated with statement on quadrilateral meeting from the U.S. State Department in paragraphs eight and nine)

Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez said on Wednesday two Turkish drilling ships were continuing operations in the eastern Mediterranean and another ship was set to join them later this month, Takvim newspaper reported.

The dispute over potentially rich natural gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean has fuelled tension between Turkey and Cyprus. The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus has accused Turkey of illegally drilling in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone, but Turkey says parts of the area belong to it own continental shelf.

“Fatih is continuing to drill in the Finike-1 borehole in the areas licensed to Turkey. Yavuz is continuing its operations in the Karpaz-1 borehole,” Dönmez said. “The Oruc Reis seismic exploration ship will join this work as of the end of August.” 

Following the Fatih,Turkey’s first drill ship dispatched to the region, the Yavuz, has also begun drilling, reaching over 1,700 metres deep, the minister said.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci are set to meet on Friday to try to restart peace talks on the island, which has been split between a Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south since mainlaind Turkish troops invaded the north in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup.

The European Union supports Cyprus and has imposed mild economic sanctions on Turkey. Turkey says Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus should also get a share in revenues from offshore gas.

Meanwhile, Greece, Israel, Cyprus and the United States on Wednesday agreed to enhance cooperation in energy, cyber and infrastructure security, following a meeting of four ministers from the countries in Athens.

The Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources of the United States of America, Francis Fannon, "underlined the increasing and tangible support of the US government for the establishment of a structured quadrilateral mechanism for cooperation that focuses on energy matters," the U.S. State Department said in a statement after the meeting.

The ministers at the meeting and the United States have agreed to work together on an energy corridot in the eastern Mediterranean with a view to bolstering the countries' energy security, the statement said.

Accordingly, work on the EastMed pipeline will be expedited and become a priority, Reuters quoted Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis as saying.

The pipeline project aims to transport gas from the rich wells found in the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus and Israel to Greece and onward to Europe.

Greek Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis noted Nicosia had received assurances from his Israeli, Greek and U.S. counterparts of full support over his country's right to search for natural resources.