NICOSIA – A Turkish oil company would be violating international law if it went ahead with plans to explore for hydrocarbons in an area of the sea already claimed by Cyprus, the island’s energy minister said on Tuesday. The company, TPAO, has opened a tender for seismic studies in a 4,000-kilometer area in the Mediterranean, apparently falling within an offshore area Cyprus plans to open for exploration. Cyprus, part of which has been occupied by Turkey since 1974, has said it is still checking the report, which appeared on TPAO’s website on Sunday. «If this is true, it would be in violation of international law,» Energy Minister Antonis Michaelides said on state radio. «If it plans to carry out research within this zone, then obviously it will be violating the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus.» Officials said it was not clear precisely where TPAO planned to carry out research. Cyprus launched an international licensing round for offshore exploration of oil and gas in February. It plans to open 11 blocks rimming the island’s southern coast for exploration, covering a distance of about 70,000 square kilometers. Cyprus has attempted to play down reports Turkey may be poised to challenge its plans. «It is very premature to make a fuss over this,» said Michaelides. Cyprus’s present hydrocarbon project, or licensing round, involves oil majors purchasing seismic data and two-dimensional templates of the Mediterranean seabed. It will be available for sale until the end of August, and then companies can apply for exploration permits. Authorities say they have encouraging signs of oil, and particularly gas deposits, on the seabed. Part of the offshore area, known as an economic exploitation zone, abuts Egypt’s NEMED block, where Shell is extracting natural gas.