DIPKARPAZ, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
An oil slick in the Eastern Mediterranean originating from Syria may pass by Northern Cyprus, a senior Turkish Cypriot official said on Tuesday.
"We were happy to learn that the slick will pass tangentially to the TRNC [the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus]," Tourism and Environment Minister Fikri Ataoglu told Anadolu Agency, referring to the massive oil leak first reported last week.
Its source was a power plant in Syria's northwestern city of Baniyas, located on the Mediterranean coast, according to pro-Assad regime media outlets.
"But sadly, it will leave very deep scars wherever it goes because of the scale of the leak," Ataoglu added, underlining that Turkish Cypriot authorities have taken all measures to mitigate the potential environmental impact.
The TRNC has deployed technical teams along with its coast guard and environment officials to monitor developments from the Karpaz area, he said.
The slick, however, has not yet been seen on the TRNC's shores.
Ataoglu said he spoke multiple times on Monday with Turkey's Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoglu and Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum, who have sent a team of experts to assist TRNC officials.
Turkey has also sent research vessels that are now on alert off the northeastern Karpaz peninsula, the Turkish Cypriot minister added.
The TRNC has established a crisis management cell to monitor its response efforts, Prime Minister Ersan Saner announced on Tuesday.
President Ersin Tatar also said authorities are closely monitoring developments.
Later in the day, Saner said latest data showed the slick had shifted toward Syria.
In a news conference, he said the western side of the Mediterranean faces a grave threat due to the leak of some 15,000 tons of oil.
He said Turkey has provided technical and logistical assistance, enabling the TRNC to prepare a more comprehensive response.
Speaking to a news channel on Tuesday evening, Turkey's Vice President Fuat Oktay said Ankara was helping the TRNC take all necessary measures and reassured Turkish Cypriots that there was no cause for worry.
* Writing by Zehra Nur Duz, Ali Murat Alhas, and Merve Aydogan in Ankara.