U.S. boosts naval presence as Exxon explores off Cyprus

The United States is increasing its naval presence in the Mediterranean as oil giant ExxonMobil sends two exploration vessels to the waters off Cyprus where Turkey last month blocked an Italian ship from looking for new gas deposits.

The Iwo Jima amphibious ready group, including three amphibious ships and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit comprising 2,500 U.S. Marines, entered Sixth Fleet operations, which are based in Naples, Italy, on Feb. 21, the U.S. navy said in a statement.

The U.S. Navy has five ships, including one command and control ship and four Arleigh Burke Class destroyers, permanently deployed in the Mediterranean.

U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil is to send two surveying vessels, which are expected to arrive in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on Monday.

The Turkish Navy prevented an exploration vessel leased by Italian energy firm ENI from drilling off Cyprus last month, despite calls from the European Union and the United States.

Turkey is alone in not recognising the government of Cyprus as having sovereignty over the whole island and instead recognises a breakaway Turkish Cypriot government in the north of the island that Turkish troops invaded in 1974. Ankara says the potentially huge gas reserves around Cyprus should be shared with the Turkish Cypriots.

The USS Iwo Jima amphibious assault ship carries a mix of Cobra attack helicopters and up to eight Harriers for close air support, as well as helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for personnel transfer.