By Angelos Anastasiou
A Cypriot-flagged research vessel ignored a request by a Turkish frigate to leave the area it was conducting measurements in on Thursday afternoon some 30 nautical miles off the Paphos coast but was still being shadowed by the Turkish vessel on Friday.
The ‘Flying Enterprise’ boat, owned by Limassol-based EDT Offshore, was conducting sounding research aimed at mapping the seabed, for purposes of laying optic fibres in the future.
On-board crew comprised mostly American technicians, as the boat had been chartered by an American company with all required permits issued by the Cypriot government. A representative of the Geological Survey Department is also on board, monitoring the research for the Cyprus government.
At around 3:30 pm Thursday, the Turkish warship told the captain to depart the area, near the borders of blocks 1 and 7 of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and to request permission from the Turkish authorities before returning.
After informing the company’s headquarters of the incident, the captain was instructed to carry on as normal.
“Although inside the EEZ, the incident took place in international waters, which Turkey possibly believes it has jurisdiction over,” said EDT’s spokesman Christos Matsis.
“The frigate asked the ship to identify itself and the purpose of its presence, and the captain duly replied. Then they asked him to depart, but replied that he couldn’t just pick up the research equipment the boat is carrying and leave. So he told them just that.”
The frigate continued to shadow the ‘Flying Enterprise’.
“It’s still there, about two nautical miles away from our boat,” Matsis said.
“But there has been no further contact.”
The ‘Flying Enterprise’ will soon be completing its research in the area in the next couple of days, and will then start moving eastward, he added.
“That should be the end of the incident,” he said.
According to unnamed sources cited by daily Phileleftheros, the foreign ministry duly alerted the United States of the incident via diplomatic channels.
“We know the Cyprus Joint Rescue Coordination Centre was listening in on the conversation and heard everything as it happened,” Matsis said.
“They didn’t intervene; but I don’t know what diplomatic measures, if any, have been taken since.”
A representative of the foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment.
The incident sparked reaction from political parties in Cyprus.
DISY leader Averof Neophytou said Cyprus is an internationally recognised state, a member of the European Union and the United Nations, and its sovereign rights are not in dispute.
“Any violation of these rights is both deplorable and unacceptable,” he said.
“A week after President Nicos Anastasiades opened Turkey’s chapter 17, a Turkish warship harassed a Cypriot one in our EEZ,” DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos tweeted.
Socialists EDEK also pounced at the chance to criticise the government over “rejuvenating” Turkey’s EU-accession talks.
“Turkey’s response and gratitude to the government’s policy are acts of piracy and provocations inside Cyprus’ EEZ,” it said in a statement.
“If the government really wants to make use of our EU membership, they should adopt a more assertive and decisive policy in order to safeguard Cyprus’ rights and the prospect of a democratic solution [to the Cyprus problem].”
House speaker Yiannakis Omirou also deemed Turkey’s actions an “act of piracy” and urged for diplomatic action.
“It is a pure act of piracy, and this is not the first time Turkey disputes the sovereignty of Cyprus,” he said.
“All legal reaction should urgently be taken, both at the level of the United Nations and the European Union.”