By Elias Hazou
A section of the local media has drummed up a frenzy over the latest Turkish moves inside Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), with one publication going so far as to claim that the island was under a naval blockade.
“Ankara enforces a naval blockade on us,” read daily Simerini’s banner headline on Wednesday, warning that this was the worst crisis since 1974.
Known for its sensationalist coverage – and in a reportage worthy of the scaremongering typically served up by Fox News – the paper zeroed in on the movements of Turkish frigates around ENI’s drillship.
It reported that the Turkish frigate Bafra has come within a short distance of the drillship, breaking a restriction or safety zone of five nautical miles around the vessel.
This posed an imminent danger to the safety of the drillship and its crew, Simerini claimed.
But speaking to the Mail, defence sources said the reports were grossly inaccurate.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation pointed out that the safety radius around the drillship is in fact 500m – not 5 nautical miles as falsely claimed by Simerini.
This applies to seaborne vessels. By contrast, the no-go zone for aircraft is three nautical miles at sea and an altitude of up to 3000 feet in the air.
“So unless a chopper within that range takes off from the frigate and goes airborne – and this has not occurred – there is no violation of the safety zone,” explained the sources.
Ships and aircraft are prohibited from violating this restriction zone.
The Cypriot NAVTEX (marine advisory) issued in September specifies a berth of five nautical miles around the drillship.
This berth is different to the safety zone, in that vessels are not so much prohibited from entering it, but rather advised in advance to plot a different course when approaching in order to avoid a possible collision.
The sources said moreover that so far no Turkish vessels have encroached into Cypriot territorial waters.
“We are monitoring their movements, and they have been operating in international waters.”
Territorial waters are defined as extending up to 12 nautical miles from the shore.
Another distinction that should be made, said the sources, is between the operation of Turkish warships off the island’s southern coast and the possible future operations of a Turkish seismic survey ship.
“If and once the Turkish seismic vessel operates in areas designated as Cyprus’ EEZ, then yes, that would be a breach of Cyprus’ sovereign territory.
“But what is happening now with the Turkish warships is something else. Remember, the Turkish NAVTEX, issued last week, does not come into effect until October 20. We shall see what happens then…if Turkey takes it to the next level.”
The same sources described the current situation as a cat-and-mouse game.
“It’s not a violation of our sovereignty yet…their actions could best be described as psychological warfare.”
Moreover, as Simerini itself conceded, the Turkish NAVTEX does not prohibit transit through the areas reserved – throwing into question the paper’s hyperbolic contention that the island has been ‘encircled.’
The same newspaper also gave extensive coverage to the warnings issued by DIKO leader Nicholas Papadopoulos, publishing in full a letter Papadopoulos submitted to President Anastasiades a day earlier.
In it, Papadopoulos warned that unless the government reacts decisively to the Turkish provocations, Cyprus risks losing its credibility as a nation, “and in the future no corporation will be interested in our [offshore] blocks.”
“As a result,” he went on, “exploration for natural gas will cease, we shall lose our sea and Turkey will have succeeded in creating a new occupation fait accompli.”
“If we do not act decisively, Turkey’s next move may be to install a [drilling] platform inside our blocks, causing irreparable harm to the future exploitation of hydrocarbons in the region.”
The NAVTEX issued last week by Turkey reserved areas south of Cyprus for seismic surveys, trespassing into offshore blocks one, two, three, eight and nine of Cyprus ’EEZ.
Earlier, other government sources told the Mail that none of the areas reserved by the Turkish advisory – which Cyprus has dismissed as null and void -overlap with any of the areas reserved by Cyprus for ENI’s operations.
ENI reportedly plans to drill wells in blocks two, three and nine. It is currently drilling at a site dubbed Onasagoras within block nine.
The areas reserved by Turkey do come between the Cypriot coastline and the areas where ENI is and will be operating.