articles | 14 October 2014

Cyprus and Greece conclude maritime agreement

Cyprus and Greece recently concluded a bilateral agreement allowing for joint search and rescue between the two countries.

The agreement was signed in Athens by Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides and his Greek counterpart Evangelos Venizelos.

Its purpose, the ministers said, is to shield both countries from acts of aggression such as the recent Turkish actions in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

They said the agreement effectively brings under the two countries’ jurisdiction the sea area between them.

According to an official statement issued later in the day, the agreement “defines the common boundary between Cyprus and Greece”. This encompasses the western limit of the Search and Rescue Region (SSR) of the Cyprus Republic and the eastern limit of Greece’s SSR, a length of 287 kilometres.

The deal also provides for the coordination of search and rescue operations by the JRCC (Joint Rescue Coordination Centre) of Larnaca and of Piraeus, the exchange of information, as well as the conduct of joint search and rescue drills.

According to the same statement, the bilateral agreement is in accordance with the provisions of the 1979 International Convention on maritime search and rescue and its annexes and the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and its protocols.

The arrangement was modelled on an already existing agreement governing the airspace between the Flight Information Regions of Athens and Nicosia.

Kasoulides later told reporters that he felt he was returning to Cyprus with “something tangible”. The chief diplomat was due back on the island in the evening.

In a related development, the two ministers also announced a three-day summit of the heads of state of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt, beginning on November 9.

Venizelos referred to on going talks between Greece and Egypt on delineating the two countries’ respective EEZs. Joint technical committees would be meeting soon in Athens to continue deliberations, he said.

Turkey is not a signatory to the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, and has no EEZ agreements in place with either Cyprus or Greece. Likewise Cyprus and Greece have not delineated their EEZs with respect to one another, largely due to Athens’ reluctance to aggravate Ankara in a long-standing and thus far intractable dispute among the two nations in defining their respective territorial waters and continental shelves.

Kasoulides said the international community had not reacted to the latest Turkish provocations in the way Cyprus had hoped for.

One explanation for Turkey’s actions in Cyprus’ EEZ, he suggested, might be that Ankara is seeking the international community’s tolerance as a trade-off for its own active engagement in the coalition against the Islamic State.

But in remarks over the weekend Kasoulides had noted the “international disapproval” of Turkey’s actions, adding that both the UN Security Council and the EU recognise Cyprus’ sovereign right to exploit its natural resources in its EEZ.

“The international disapproval has been recorded. Diplomatic efforts will continue. Is this enough to stop Turkey? Maybe yes maybe not,” he said.

Kasoulides reiterated that Italian energy corporation ENI would press ahead with exploration operations inside the Cypriot EEZ. Meanwhile on Sunday Turkey’s armed forces announced that the frigate TCG Gelibolu was observing ENI’s drillship at a distance of five nautical miles (approximately 9 kilometres). ENI’s drillship is currently located in offshore block 9 of Cyprus’ EEZ.

Ankara is said to have asked the Italian government to halt ENI’s operations in Cyprus’ EEZ. According to Turkish newspaper Aksam, Turkey relayed to Italy that if it is sincere about contributing to peace talks in Cyprus, Rome should put a stop to ENI’s activities.

Turkey was addressing Italy as the current rotating president of the Council of the European Union. The Italian state is a stakeholder in ENI.

On October 3 Turkey issued a marine advisory reserving for seismic surveys off the island’s southern coast a large contiguous area encroaching into parts of offshore blocks 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9. The swathe reserved by Turkey comes between the Cypriot coastline and the areas where ENI is and will be operating. Turkish seismic surveys are set to begin on October 20. The move prompted the government to suspend peace talks with Turkish Cypriots.

Ankara has stated that it will not accept Greek Cypriot ‘unilateral actions’ with regard to offshore hydrocarbons prospecting, adding that the island’s natural resources should be shared between the two communities.

Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Ozdil Nami told media that either both sides would carry out hydrocarbons exploration off Cyprus or both should cease their activities. He called the current situation an “artificial crisis”, hinting the Greek Cypriot side is using the planned Turkish seismic surveys as a pretext for freezing peace talks.

President Nicos Anastasiades said over the weekend that Greek Cypriots would not resume negotiations unless and until Turkish threats ceased.

Source: Cyprus Mail

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