By Elias Hazou
A Turkish seismic survey vessel waded into Cyprus’ maritime zone on Thursday, with reports from Turkey claiming the boat had been harassed en route by a Greek frigate.
The Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa will be conducting surveys in a sea area of approximately 44,000 square kilometres.
The Turkish Navtex, or marine advisory, states that the Barbaros will remain in the area until February 1.
The area reserved by the Navtex is located at the notional boundaries of the respective exclusive zones (EEZs) of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt. Due to political reasons, the three countries have officially not delineated their EEZs with respect to one another.
The reserved area also borders Cyprus’ offshore blocks 4 and 5, parts of which Turkey claims fall within its ‘continental shelf’.
According to Phileleftheros, the southeasternmost tip of the area is approximately 100 km from the two sites in block 10 which ExxonMobil has earmarked for drilling this autumn.
The easternmost tip of the reserved area is approximately 150km off the coast of Paphos.
The Turkish seismic vessel is being shadowed by two support ships, the Tanux-1 and the Apollo Moon.
Responding, the Republic of Cyprus issued a counter-Navtex stating that the Turkish advisory was null and void.
Turkey came back with a new statement, saying its Navtex was “in accordance with international law.”
Ankara does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, nor therefore the latter’s EEZ around the island.
To date, Turkey has been careful not to encroach into the island’s continental shelf, keeping its research ships within international waters.
But Nicosia’s position is that any economic activity within its maritime zone requires permission from the Republic. Since Turkey did not request permission, the activities of the Barbaros are illegal.
Local media speculated that Turkey’s intent in deploying the Barbaros now is to convey a political message, namely making its presence felt in the area during the same time that ExxonMobil will be drilling exploratory wells for gas in block 10.
Meanwhile Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said the navy had stopped a Greek frigate from harassing a Turkish ship in the Mediterranean. It did not give further details.
In a statement, the Turkish foreign ministry said the Barbaros was carrying out seismic research activity, adding that Ankara would continue to exercise its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its continental shelf.
“We recommend that Greece abstain from acts that would cause an escalation in the region,” the ministry said.
A Greek defence source denied there was an incident but said the Greeks were monitoring the activity of the Barbaros.
Turkey has repeatedly vowed to stop Cyprus from extracting and monetizing its offshore gas reserves.
In February this year, Turkish warships prevented a drilling rig from approaching an exploratory well in Cyprus’ block 3.
In a report that came out days ago, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the sides to avoid escalating tensions over upcoming drilling.