Turkey says sent Cypriot vessel away from its continental shelf

ANKARA, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Turkey sent a Greek Cypriot research vessel away from what it says is its continental shelf in the Mediterranean on Sunday, Turkey's Defence Ministry said, in a sign of renewed tensions in a hotly contested region.

For decades, Turkey has been at odds with Greece and Cyprus over competing territorial claims in the east Mediterranean, air space, energy, the status of some islands in the Aegean, and the ethnically-split island of Cyprus.

Turkey's defence ministry said the Maltese-flagged Nautical Geo, a research vessel contracted by Greek Cypriots, was 'taken away' from the Turkish continental shelf at the weekend after being warned that it was trespassing.

It did not specify how it was removed.

Tracking data showed the survey vessel in anchorage off the town of Larnaca in Cyprus on Monday, while earlier gave a route which was south of the island.

Sunday's incident was days before Turkey and Greece, a close ally to the Greek Cypriot government in Cyprus, were to begin a fresh round of informal talks in Ankara on Oct. 6 to discuss their own disputes.

Turkey's foreign ministry said on Saturday "unilateral" steps by Greece and Greek Cypriots in the Mediterranean were stoking tension. Cyprus's foreign ministry called Turkey's actions "illegal".

The Turkish defence ministry said it had begun diplomatic initiatives with Malta as well as Italy, the shipowner's country, before the Nautical Geo's mission because its operations were not coordinated with Turkey.

Greece and Turkey do not agree on the limitations of their respective continental shelves, while in the case of Cyprus, Turkey does not acknowledge that the Nicosia government, which it doesn't recognise, has a continental shelf at all.

"Despite these initiatives from Turkey, the Nautical Geo research vessel tried to enter Turkish Continental Shelf without permission. Upon this, it was questioned and warned by a ship belonging to the Turkish Navy," the ministry said.

"Following the vessel's entry into the continental shelf without permission despite this, the research vessel was removed from the Turkish Continental Shelf," it said.

It said that Turkey blocked the Nautical Geo's work east of the island of Crete last week for the same reason.

Turkey does not have diplomatic relations with the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government, but supports a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus.

Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides said: "These illegal and dangerous manoeuvres of Ankara both off Crete, and south-west of Cyprus is proof that the soothing noises coming out of Turkey for a while aren't being transformed, unfortunately, into action."

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, additional reporting by Michele Kambas Editing by Daren Butler, Robert Birsel and Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.