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Turkish seismic vessel sails off northern coast

The Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa

The Turkish seismic survey vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa was on Tuesday sailing off the island’s northern coast as Turkey prepared to conduct more naval drills off Paphos later this week.

According to marinetraffic.com, at around 5pm the Barbaros was off the northern coast of Cyprus, longitudinally located about halfway across the width of the Karpass peninsula and headed in a westerly direction.

Last Wednesday (April 19) Turkey issued a Navtex, or notice to mariners, reserving an area inside the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), off Famagusta, to carry out seismic surveys between April 30 and June 30.

The reserved area (Navtex no. 410/17) covers an expanse from the bay of Famagusta to Apostolos Andreas off the tip of the Karpas peninsula. The area reserved for seismic studies includes parts of Cyprus’ EEZ, but also extends into part of Cyprus’ territorial waters.

The area is at a considerable distance from the offshore blocks delineated by the Republic of Cyprus.

Contrary to previous visits by the Barbaros, this time the Navtex calls on all ships to keep a safe distance of 3 nautical miles.

The safe distance is to give the seismic vessel the space to deploy seismic cables that take depth sounding measurements.

The 3 nautical miles advice is a departure from previous notices, when ships were advised to keep a distance of 5 nautical miles, which is the norm.

The shorter safe distance may suggest the Barbaros is not actually carrying out seismic exploration, and that its dispatch is – for the time being – no more than a political statement.

The Navtex expires on June 30 – just days before Total and ENI are scheduled to start exploratory drilling for gas in Block 11 south of Cyprus.

The drilling is estimated to begin mid-July. It is possible that at that time Turkey may up the ante, issuing a new Navtex, dispatching the Barbaros closer to offshore acreage licensed by the Republic.

Issuing a notice to mariners within the Cyprus EEZ is in itself not a violation of the Republic’s sovereignty, unless Turkey carries out economic activities inside the reserved area.

This might include deploying a seismic cable.

In order to carry out any economic activity, Turkey must ask permission from the jurisdictional coastal state (Cyprus), which it has not, as it does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus.

The Cyprus foreign ministry issued an announcement last week saying the surveys taking place in the Republic’s territorial waters, continental shelf and EEZ would “constitute a violation of Cyprus’ sovereign rights and sovereignty.”

It said that if the violations took place, the Republic would “act in the way it deems appropriate, in line with international law.”

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