Turkey rejects claims it is drilling illegally for gas off Cyprus

Turkey has hit back at Greek and EU officials, denying claims it is acting illegally by drilling for gas in waters off Cyprus.

The country’s foreign ministry criticised EU condemnation of its efforts to tap the region for potentially lucrative energy resources, saying the bloc could not be considered an impartial mediator for the divided island.

In a statement that will cause dismay in Brussels, Ankara vowed to press ahead with offshore exploration to safeguard the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the natural resources.

Tensions over hydrocarbons escalated sharply after the discovery of possibly huge gas reserves off Cyprus, where there are conflicting claims over territorial waters.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has repeatedly warned international oil companies commissioned by the Greek Cypriot government not to participate in the search for underwater deposits.

ExxonMobil, Total and Eni are among the firms that have won licences to search in blocks around the island. Last year Turkish gunboats were dispatched to prevent Eni, an Italian oil company, from conducting drilling operations.

On Wednesday Ankara dug in its heels, pledging a second drilling vessel, the Yavuz, would expand exploration activities. The ship dropped anchor off the island’s north-eastern Karpas peninsula on Monday.