By Elias Hazou
The defence ministry on Monday declined to comment on reported plans for the acquisition of naval gunships.
Asked by the Cyprus Mail, a ministry spokesman declined comment, citing the sensitivity of national security issues.
Over the past two weeks various media outlets have put out differing reports on the government’s intentions to procure military hardware.
A week ago Simerini said the government would be buying a frigate from Israel and three more from EU countries; this was neither denied nor confirmed.
And on Sunday, Kathimerini reported that the United States was about to ‘give’ Cyprus two coastguard vessels.
Also on Sunday, speaking to military brass at the Andreas Papandreou airbase, Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaidis said the government is working “methodically and quietly toward making rescue operations safer and more efficient”.
According to Kathimerini, two ships – fitted with light weapons – are to be acquired from the United States. They are dual-use vessels (DUVs), that is, vessels that can be deployed for military as well as civil uses.
The transfer or sale of DUVs would get around the embargo on the sale of US military equipment to Cyprus, the paper suggested.
Cyprus’ intention is to acquire open-sea patrol vessels, or offshore vessels, with long-range capability and able to navigate rough seas.
It’s understood that neither the coast guard – essentially the marine division of the police – nor the National Guard currently possess such long-range vessels.
At the same time, Cyprus was looking to purchase gunboats for the National Guard, Kathimerini said. Negotiations were being conducted directly with another state or states.
According to published figures, the defence ministry’s budget for 2016 comes to €319m, of which €72m has been set aside for armaments.
About two years ago, reports surfaced that the government had agreed to purchase from Israel two naval craft, to be used primarily for patrolling the waters in the Exclusive Economic Zone.
The two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) were to be built from scratch for Cyprus by Israel Shipyards Ltd, with a reported combined price tag of €100m.
At the time the government confirmed the negotiations with the Israelis.
The plans were shelved, apparently after the ruling DISY party decided the purchase would be provocative amid the financial squeeze.
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.
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 while reunification talks are ongoing and has previously said it would take measures to protect its interests.