A picture released by the Cypriot Press Information Office in 2011 shows a platform drilling for hydrocarbons in the island's Exclusive Economic Zone off of southern Cyprus. The Turkish Navy on Feb. 1 intercepted a natural gas exploration ship off the coast of Cyprus, ordering it to leave what Turkey claims as part of its exclusive maritime zone. (Christos Avraamides / AFP)
ANKARA — In what observers view as an indication of Turkey’s intentions to flex its muscles in the eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Navy at the weekend intercepted a Norwegian natural gas exploration ship off the coast of Cyprus.
The Turkish military said in a written statement that one of its ships radioed the vessel sailing in what Turkey claims is its exclusive maritime zone. It said the Turkish frigate ordered the Norwegian ship to leave the area. The military said the incident took place late on Feb. 1, and that there was no further incident.
Turkey has been building up its naval force over recent years by buying or ordering new frigates, corvettes, patrol boats and assault boats in large quantities. Recently, the government opened contract negotiations with the local shipyard Sedef, partnered with Spain’s Navantia, for the construction of a nearly $800 million landing platform dock.
Turkey has threatened to take military action if Cyprus, divided between ethnic Turks and Cypriots since 1974, took unilateral action to explore for hydrocarbon resources off the island’s western and southern coasts.
Turkey claims such resources are the common property of the island’s Turkish and Cypriot population. The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government claims the resources are in its legitimate exclusive economic zone. The tiny Turkish Cypriot statelet in the island’s north is recognized only by Turkey.
The Cypriot government said Feb. 3 it will complain to the United Nations over the interception of the exploration vessel.
The ship was carrying out research for French company Total, one of three hydrocarbon companies licensed by Cyprus to search for gas.
Cyprus says the waters are part of its own offshore area, where it has awarded research concessions to Total, US company Noble Energy and South Korea’s Kogas.
A Turkish military official said that under the government’s orders the Navy would continue to monitor the area to ward off any “illegitimate exploration activity chartered by the Greek Cypriot administration.”