Eni rig sails for Morocco after Turkey blocks Cyprus search

An Italian drillship blocked by the Turkish navy from exploring for gas off Cyprus was on Tuesday headed for Morocco, a website monitoring sea traffic showed.

The Saipem 12000 vessel, chartered by Italian giant Eni, anchored off the Cypriot port of Limassol after it was forced on Friday to abandon its mission following a two-week standoff with Turkish warships.

Ankara bitterly opposes attempts by the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus to exploit resources in the waters off the divided island, insisting it is protecting the rights of the Turkish-Cypriot community.

The Marine Traffic website that measures ship movements around the globe estimated that the vessel should arrive off the coast of Morocco by March 9.

An Eni spokesman reiterated a statement by the firm’s boss that the drillship “would head to Morocco and return to Cyprus when conditions allow”.

Cypriot Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis on Monday said the postponement of the test drilling was a “setback” but the government would continue with its energy search as planned.

The latest spike in tensions over energy resources has complicated efforts to restart talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus after they collapsed last year.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup.

EU member Cyprus argues that the island’s untapped energy riches belong to the state and the wealth would be shared with the Turkish-Cypriot community once the island was reunified.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned foreign energy companies not to “overstep the mark” in the Mediterranean after Turkey’s navy blocked the Italian vessel on February 9, claiming they were carrying out manoeuvres.

Cyprus expects more exploratory drills in the second half of 2018 by US giant ExxonMobil and its partner Qatar Petroleum.

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