Turkish seismic ship returns to Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone

The Turkish seismic vessel Barbaros re-entered Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone on Wednesday following its withdrawal from the area at the end of last month, prompting anger in Nicosia and Athens and a heightening of tensions in the region.

The return of the Barbaros to Cyprus’s EEZ, where Nicosia is conducting licensed drilling for hydrocarbons, was heralded in a new maritime order, or Navtex, issued by Turkish authorities on Tuesday, declaring Ankara’s intention to continue research in the area until April 6.

The licensed drilling in the area, being carried out by the Eni-Kogas consortium’s drilling ship, is due to continue until the end of March.

Responding on Wednesday to the return of the Barbaros, Cyprus government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides said that President Nicos Anastasiades’s decision to suspend Cyprus peace talks last October remained unchanged, adding that Nicosia was studying its legal and political options. He also called on the European Union and the United Nations, which is mediating the stalled Cyprus talks, to “focus their efforts on Ankara.”

In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency meanwhile, US Ambassador to Cyprus John M. Koenig called for the resumption of peace talks as soon as possible and appealed to both sides to avoid actions or words that could contribute to an increase in tensions.

The return of the Barbaros prompted Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos to telephone Anastasiades on Wednesday. Earlier Venizelos criticized Ankara for continuing its “flagrant violation of international law and blatant violation of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus.” Ministry sources indicated meanwhile that Ankara should not assume that the pre-election climate in Greece will weaken the resolve of Athens and Nicosia to respond to provocations.