By Elias Hazou
The Turkish research vessel Barbaros was sailing off the island’s south-eastern coast on Monday as Ankara appeared to make good on its threat to carry out surveys within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Barbaros is being accompanied by support vessels M/V Bravo and M/V Deep Supporter as well as the Turkish warship TCG Gelibolu. It entered the island’s EEZ around 6.30am, then plotted a southwesterly direction. By 11am it had entered Block 3, sailed south deeper into the EEZ and early in the afternoon shifted into a north-east direction.
ENI-KOGAS is operating its drill ship Saipem 10000 within offshore Block 9. According to online vessel tracking site marinetraffic.com, the Barbaros was at one point around 16 hours away from the drill site.
Turkey’s NAVTEX (Navigational Telex), issued on October 3, reserved a large swathe inside Cyprus’ EEZ for seismic surveys from October 20 to December 30.
Cyprus says the seismic surveys are illegal and a violation of its sovereignty. Although the Turkish operations are taking place within international waters, any activity by foreign nations beneath the water surface (such as surveys, depth soundings and data gathering) inside Cyprus’ EEZ is prohibited. Any activities by foreign nations within the Nicosia Flight Information Region (FIR) also require Cyprus’ prior express approval.
Defence sources told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) that authorities were monitoring the Barbaros and were ready to deal with any eventuality.
In any case, the same source said, ENI’s drilling operations in offshore Block 9 were continuing without problems.
Defence minister Christoforos Fokaides told the state broadcaster the movements of the Turkish ships, which he called “provocative and illegal”, were being closely monitored.
“Turkey is acting as if it wants to send some sort of message. The fact that it is not bluffing, does not mean that its tactics will work or that at the end of these actions it will work in its favour,” the minister said.
Nicosia was considering all possible scenarios, Fokaides added.
Also on Monday, Russia’s Black Sea fleet began war drills north east of the island. The area reserved by Russia for the exercises, which end on Thursday, covers some 800 square miles.
Fokaides said the Russian exercises, which are taking place in international waters but inside the Nicosia Flight Information Region (FIR) began at 7am. The area being used by the Russian Black Sea fleet did not overlap with the area reserved for exploration under the Turkish NAVTEX, he said, but the two areas were “close”.
Asked whether the Russian exercises were connected with the Turkish NAVTEX, Fokaides said: “In politics, nothing is accidental” but in the sense that it didn’t necessarily only concern Cyprus, he noted.
The Russian navy has been active in the area off Syria’s coast since March 2013.
Israel is also due to carry out joint exercises with Cyprus on Tuesday. Fokaides said this exercise had been planned for some time but “exercises and events take place and evolve within a given context and must be interpreted against the political backdrop as it unfolds”.
“Without that meaning, I repeat, that everything third parties do is done exclusively for the Republic of Cyprus. The important thing in politics is to take advantage of possibilities and converging interests,” he added.
The National Council met on Monday in an all-day session to discuss Cyprus’ response. The Greek Cypriot side has already pulled out of peace talks due to Turkey’s actions.
It will convene again on Tuesday to complete an exchange of views, and announcements would be made on Cyprus’ further counter-measures with regard to the Turkish provocations.
Last week the government said it had devised a plan to counter Turkish actions, and that it would “escalate and de-escalate” its response according to developments.
From Athens, Greece’s Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos released a statement denouncing Turkey’s activities as a “flagrant violation” of the Law of the Sea.
Within the area reserved by Turkey, Venizelos said, there is no question as to the delimitation of the continental shelf and the EEZ of the Cyprus Republic.
The Greek FM called on Ankara to “change course, not only in regard to the ship [the Barbaros] but also in regard to its foreign policy,” warning that otherwise Turkey itself would place “insurmountable obstacles” in its own path toward accession to the European Union.
Neither the Turkish foreign ministry nor the country’s armed forces issued statements or made comments, and coverage in the Turkish media was minimal to non-existent, according to the CyBC’s correspondent in Istanbul.