AN ITALIAN-flagged research vessel conducting depth soundings off the Paphos coast within Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was reportedly harassed by the Turkish war navy last week, in what was the third episode over the past two months.
According to daily Politis, the incident occurred last Thursday when the ‘Odin Finder’ was intercepted by a Turkish gunboat. The survey vessel was in the area measuring water depths as preparatory work for the laying of fibre-optic cables.
After intercepting the vessel, the Turkish warship ordered it to retreat as it had encroached into Turkey’s continental shelf, the paper said.
At that point the vessel was located at the intersection of blocks 1 and 7 of Cyprus’ EEZ. Block 1 lies south and southwest of Paphos. The gunboat later began circling the vessel, which eventually headed back to shore after alerting Cypriot authorities. The research ship is currently surveying waters off the coast of Limassol.
Politis said the Turkish warship intercepted the ‘Odin Finder’ just outside the two blocks’ intersection. It was later joined by another Turkish vessel, and the two were patrolling the area until Saturday afternoon.
On the day of the incident, the National Guard General Staff convened a crisis response team to monitor the situation. The meeting was attended by the National Guard chief and the minister of defence, among others. It is reportedly the third time over the last few months that Turkish gunboats have accosted or harassed research vessels near or inside the EEZ.
The government here has neither confirmed nor denied the latest incident. However Politis said the administration has delivered diplomatic demarches to both the Italian and US governments.
Turkey has signed a ‘continental shelf delineation agreement’ with the breakaway regime in a purported effort to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the island’s natural resources, while also serving to support Turkey’s argument against islands having any right to an EEZ.
Maps published in Turkey’s official gazette show that oil drilling permits issued to TPAO, Turkey’s national oil and gas company, stretch as far as the Greek island of Rhodes as well as blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in Cyprus’ EEZ, south and south-west of the island.
Turkey demands that Cyprus cease hydrocarbon explorations pending reunification talks and has previously said it would take measures to protect its interests.
Meanwhile Turkey’s research vessel, the ‘RV Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa’, is reportedly set to carry out surveys in the Mediterranean for oil and gas field exploration in August or September.