Nicosia on Monday sought to downplay an incident occurring a month ago when a Turkish warship instructed an Israeli research vessel to leave an area inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Speaking on the public broadcaster, Defence Minister Savvas Angelides confirmed an incident did take place on November 18.
He did not specify where precisely, only that it occurred within the Republic’s economic waters.
The minister said that an Israeli research vessel, commissioned by Ben Gurion University, was carrying out research with prior permission from Cyprus’ Geological Survey Department.
The Israeli vessel was hailed by radio by a Turkish ship, which instructed it to abandon the area. The captain of the former complied and headed on to another location, where the vessel continued doing research. Cypriot authorities were informed.
Angelides said similar incidents occur throughout the world and that calling this particular one a ‘standoff’ or ‘harassment’ would be an exaggeration.
The minister attributed media coverage inflating the significance of the episode to possible ‘hybrid warfare’ being waged by certain parties.
He was alluding to reports in the Israeli and especially the Turkish media playing up the affair.
Unnamed Cypriot sources provided the Cyprus News Agency with a little more detail. They confirmed the Israeli ship was the Bat Galim, belonging to the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute, and it was conducting an oceanographic survey to the west or southwest of the island.
Its crew included a Cypriot geologist.
A Turkish warship, said the same sources, warned the Israeli vessel that some of the areas in which it was conducting research were part of Turkey’s economic waters, and that it had to shift position.
The areas in question are understood to have been inside Cyprus’ offshore blocks 4 and 5, the northern sections of which Turkey claims as falling within its ‘continental shelf’.
The Israeli vessel contacted the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), relaying what had happened. In turn the JRCC advised the vessel it was operating legally, having secured permission from the authorities of Cyprus.
However the captain of the Israeli ship made a decision to reposition regardless, plotting a southward course where surveys continued.
Having completed its work, the vessel finally departed Cyprus’ EEZ in late November.
According to the sources, the survey had nothing to do with Cyprus’ energy exploration programme and as such Cypriot authorities need not have taken further action.
Meanwhile in a report on Sunday, Israeli news outlet Globes said the recent maritime accord between Libya and Turkey is intended to thwart the EastMed pipeline project.
On December 11, Turkey notified the UN that it was seeking to register the maritime border between the economic areas of Turkey, Libya, and Egypt as set in the agreement between Turkey and Libya. The new borderline passes through the Mediterranean Sea southward to Cyprus, and in effect annexes the entire sea area between Cyprus and Crete to Turkey’s exclusive economic zone.
Turkey made it clear that once it had reached agreement with Libya, any activity by any other country in its exclusive economic zone would require its consent. Turkey also warned that it would use military force against any oil and gas exploration in the area around Cyprus.
Globes said that so far Tel Aviv has not responded to Turkey’s ‘maritime annexation’.
“Two weeks ago, however, [Israeli] government sources said that the gas pipeline project would soon begin.”
The publication quoted energy consultant Gina Cohen as saying: “Turkey, which regards itself as a hub for the transition of energy from Asia, has been losing its status to Egypt in recent years.”