ATHENS, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomed the signing of a lease agreement between the Greek state and a consortium comprising of ExxonMobil, Total and Hellenic Petroleum on Thursday for the research and exploitation of hydrocarbons off Crete Island as a "vote of confidence" in Greece.
The contract which was signed by representatives of the energy giants and Greek officials in a celebratory ceremony in Athens grants to the joint venture the right to carry out exploratory drilling and extract hydrocarbons at the offshore area of block "West Crete".
The country has already signed all exploration contracts for the Ionian Sea, but the block off Crete is the largest of about 40,000 square kilometers.
Under the new deal which came after an international tender in 2017, the first stage of exploration should last 8 years.
The consortium will pay an initial 1.5 million euros (1.7 million U.S. dollars) with the signing of the agreement, some 2.5 million euros surface fees gradually over the next 8 years and royalties and other fees when the exploitation stage starts, according to Greek national news agency AMNA.
"Greece is making a big and decisive step today to capitalize on its energy wealth. Today Greece is not only a country which is a critical energy hub in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans, but is also starting to implement a plan that ultimately aims to turn it into an energy-producing country," Tsipras said delivering a speech during the ceremony which was broadcast by Greek national broadcaster ERT.
After a serious debt crisis which a decade Greece is emerging as a "self-sufficient economy" and is paving the ground to achieve energy sufficiency as well in the future, the Greek leader said.
"This investment is a vote of confidence in the potential of Greece and the Greek economy," he stressed.
The Greek leader noted that Greece's launch of research to exploit hydrocarbons within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) follows similar steps made by other countries in the region.
"Greece, like Cyprus in recent years, is proceeding with well-planned steps and hard work in order to ensure a good outcome," he said.
"We always proceed by ensuring that international law is respected, and that our efforts are supported by the companies that have the best technology, as well as excellent knowledge and the know-how and logistical infrastructure to achieve the best possible result," he said in an indirect reference to Turkey's similar actions lately.
Tensions have risen in the region recently as Turkey has dispatched two oil and gas drilling ships this summer for research in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Cyprus and Greece have warned Ankara with repercussions should the two ships drill within their exclusive economic zones.
The two countries on one side and Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community on the other have argued for years over sea boundaries and rights over resources in the region.
Cyprus Island has been divided since 1974 when Turkey intervened militarily following a coup by Athens-backed Greek Cypriots.