Deal agreed for EastMed undersea gas pipeline to Europe

The race for offshore energy deposits in the southern Mediterranean has created tensions between Greece and Cyprus, on the one side, and rival Turkey. Ankara has raised the stakes with claims to areas under Greek control. (AFP)
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Updated 02 January 2020

Deal agreed for EastMed undersea gas pipeline to Europe

  • The 1,900 km EastMed pipeline has a budget of $6 billion

ATHENS: The leaders of Greece, Israel and Cyprus met in Athens on Thursday to sign a deal for an undersea pipeline that would carry gas from new offshore deposits in the southeastern Mediterranean to continental Europe.

The 1,900 km EastMed pipeline is intended to provide an alternative gas source for energy-hungry Europe, which is currently largely dependent on supplies from Russia and the Caucasus region.

As now designed, the pipeline would run from Israel’s Levantine Basin offshore gas reserves to Cyprus, Crete and the Greek mainland. An overland pipeline to northwestern Greece and another planned undersea pipeline would carry the gas to Italy.

The project, with a rough budget of $6 billion, is expected to satisfy about 10 percent of the EU’s natural gas needs. But it also is fraught with political and logistical complexities.

The race to claim offshore energy deposits in the southern Mediterranean has created new tensions between Greece and Cyprus, on the one side, and historic rival Turkey.

Ankara has raised the stakes with recent moves to explore waters controlled by the two EU member countries. Cyprus and Greece are particularly disturbed Turkey sent warship-escorted drill ships into waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the EastMed pipeline, while not aimed against Turkey, affirms that Greece and Cyprus hold sovereign rights to the waters they control.

Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to meet in Athens to sign an agreement on building the pipeline.

Before departing for the Greek capital, Netanyahu said the three countries have established ”an alliance of great importance” that would bolster regional stability and turn Israel ”into an energy powerhouse.”

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has said the EastMed pipeline would take up to seven years to build and that its advantages include being less vulnerable to sabotage and not crossing many national borders to reach markets.

Anastasiades said in an New Year’s Day interview with Cyprus’ Phileleftheros newspaper that the construction agreement’s signing “sends messages in every direction.”

“Especially under current conditions, it demonstrates the strong political will of the countries involved, as well as the European Union, that they don’t accept Turkey’s unlawful actions,” Anastasiades said.

Cyprus is divided into a Greek Cypriot south, where the island nation’s internationally recognized government is located, and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north backed by Turkey. The split followed a 1974 Turkish invasion after an aborted coup aiming to bring Cyprus under Greek rule.

Turkey is also laying claim to large tracts under Greek control in the Aegean Sea and off the Greek island of Crete.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that no project can proceed without his country’s consent following a maritime border agreement that Ankara signed with the Libya’s Tripoli-based government.

The Cypriot government has licensed Italian energy company Eni, France’s Total, ExxonMobil and Texas-based Noble Energy to carry out exploratory hydrocarbons drilling in the country’s offshore economic zone.


Will sea, sand and social distancing make the Caribbean appealing?

Updated 1 min 13 sec ago

Will sea, sand and social distancing make the Caribbean appealing?

  • Officials want the new tourism guidelines to reassure travelers, without being off-putting

KINGSTON: A cluster of Caribbean islands are reopening this month for tourism, hoping to burnish their reputations as oases of tranquility after containing their COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing strict public health protocols.

The Caribbean, known for its palm-fringed beaches, turquoise water and colonial towns, is the most tourism-dependent region in the world. 

Antigua and Barbuda, the US Virgin Islands and St. Lucia are the first to reopen this week. Jamaica and Aruba are set to follow later in the month, with July target dates for the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.

While other tourist hotspots such as Greece aim to limit arrivals from countries with high infection rates, the first flights the Caribbean is receiving are from the United States, which has the world’s highest number of reported cases.

But local tourism officials say they have little choice. Americans accounted for almost half the Caribbean’s 31.5 million visitors last year.

“What are we going to wait for? A vaccine? Shut down the country for two years?” Antigua and Barbuda’s Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez asked.

Instead, those islands reopening will conduct health screening, including temperature checks upon arrival, and require or encourage the use of face masks in public spaces.

They are divided over whether to test — as recommended by the Caribbean Public Health Agency — because of cost, reliability and availability concerns. Without testing, asymptomatic visitors could be a risk.

Antigua and Barbuda will do a rapid coronavirus test of visitors upon arrival, said Fernandez. 

St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said it would require a certificate for a negative coronavirus test conducted up to 48 hours before departure.

It remains unclear if this would work, given tests are not widely available on demand in the US.

Concerns remain over reopenings in countries that do not require testing of arrivals, such as Jamaica.

“People should object, as should anyone who has done what they have done to flatten the curve of new cases,” said civil rights advocate Carol Narcisse, noting Jamaica has warned of a likely new rise in cases.

“Whose interest is the government really serving here?“

The coronavirus era has uprooted Caribbean carnival celebrations, nights out clubbing and resort buffets.

Still, the tourism industry hopes the mere appeal of sun, sea and the outdoors will suffice.

“Post-coronavirus, people want to get outside,” said Marc Melville, the head of Jamaica-based Chukka Tours.

Caribbean nations, which were quick to shut their borders and impose strict lockdowns as the pandemic spread, hope to market themselves as safe destinations. Antigua and Barbuda and the US Virgin Islands have respectively just one and two reported cases, officials said. St. Lucia has none.

Officials want the new tourism guidelines to reassure travelers, without being off-putting. Measures include sanitizing surfaces and social distancing in hotels, restaurants, tour operators and taxis.

Islands such as St. Lucia will pace their reopenings, keeping tourist sites closed in a first phase and allowing seated restaurant service only at resorts.

On his blog “One Mile at a Time,” travel writer Ben Schlappig wrote St. Lucia’s plan would make him feel safe: “The question becomes whether a visit would be any fun with all of these restrictions.”