Turkey warns Greek Navy to back off Eastern Mediterranean gas exploration vessel

Tensions have flared up again in the Eastern Mediterranean after Turkish naval vessels responded to reports that a Greek frigate had been “interfering” with the operations of Turkey’s seismic and drilling survey vessel, Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, in gas-rich waters near Cyprus, local media has reported.

The vessel reportedly faced interference from the Greek frigate after beginning its seismic research activities on Thursday morning, prompting the Turkish naval intervention.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement urging Greece to “abstain from the acts that could cause an escalation in the region."

The Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources also warned Greece to “steer well clear” of raising tensions and said Turkey would continue to act according to its rights under international law.

Turkey’s research vessel is expected to seek gas wells in areas that the Greek Republic of Cyprus claims fall under its Exclusive Economic Zone. Turkey, however, does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration, argues that drilling in the economic zone infringes on the rights of Turkish Cypriots, and says anyway that a large area of its claim lies on Turkey’s continental shelf, and thus is Turkey’s to exploit.

While Turkey’s exploratory activities have reportedly carefully avoided Cyprus’s continental shelf, they are taking place in an area that falls under Greek Republic of Cyprus’s economic zone, and the Greek Cypriot administration considers this an infringement.

A Greek defence source quoted by the Cyprus Mail denied there had been an incident on Thursday but said the Greek navy was closely monitoring the situation.

Turkey blocked a research vessel chartered by the Italian energy company Eni from conducting research in the area in February.

Since then there has been no softening of Turkey’s stance on the issue of gas exploration around Cyprus, and it is thought that the survey vessel has been sent as a message.

“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,” the Cyprus Mail said.