French Frigate Sails in Cyprus Waters Amid Eastern Mediterranean Tensions

The "La Fayette" frigate sailed close to the island's eastern coast after receiving permission from the Cypriot government to train its crew.

A French frigate was sailing inside Cyprus' territorial waters in the context of a defense agreement between the island-nation and France amid the ongoing tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said.

On Wednesday, the "La Fayette" frigate sailed close to the island's eastern coast after receiving permission from the Cypriot government to train its crew in diving, before resuming patrols in the open sea, reports Xinhua news agency.

Staying Close to Cypriot Shores

It added that the frigate would stay close to the Cypriot shores before returning to patrol duties "in the context of monitoring the eastern Mediterranean". "The presence of the French frigate in the region is sending out a message that security and stability in the eastern Mediterranean can be achieved through such defense cooperation," Christodoulides was quoted by Cyprus's state radio as saying.

French Frigate
French Frigate "La Fayette" Wikimedia Commons

Cyprus and France signed a defense cooperation agreement in April 2018, and it came into force as of August 1, 2020. The agreement provides for cooperation between Cyprus and France in the fields of energy and maritime security, early warning and crisis management, as well as combating terrorism and piracy.

Turkey's Accusation of French Cooperation

"La Fayette" was operating close to two Turkish ships being active in waters declared by Cyprus as its exclusive economic zone. Barbaros, a survey ship, and Yavuz, a drillship prospecting for natural gas, were reportedly in an area off the eastern coast of Cyprus, after having been licensed by the Turkish Cypriot state, which is recognized only by Ankara.

The two ships were being protected by Turkish frigates. Turkey repeatedly accused France of cooperating with the Cypriot government and Greece in trying to deprive Ankara of its rights on what is considered to be its continental shelf.

It also said that France has no littoral interests in the eastern Mediterranean. Two French Rafale planes have also been sent to an airbase in western Cyprus to train with Cypriot military units, according to local media reports.

Greece's Deployment of Warships

On August 7, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country resumed drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, a day after Egypt and Greece signed an agreement on the demarcation of the maritime borders between the two countries and setting up an exclusive economic zone between them.

Further escalating the tensions, Turkey on August 10 sent its seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis, escorted by Turkish warships, to the Eastern Mediterranean. The country said that the Oruc Reis, which has lowered 1,750 km of seismic cables into the Mediterranean Sea for a two-dimensional seismic survey, would be operating in the Mediterranean Sea until August 23.

Greece, which also deployed warships to monitor the vessel, has called on Turkey to withdraw vessels from the area. The discovery of rich gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean in the last decade has triggered a race to tap the region's underwater resources and sparked tensions between Ankara and Athens.