|The vessel left Turkey after a deal was signed between the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot governments [Reuters]
A Turkish ship has begun gas exploration near Cyprus, as the leaders of Greece and Turkey have held talks on the issue of oil and gas drilling off the divided island, officials from both countries have said.
The Piri Reis began geophysical surveys and seismic data collection on Monday, Irsen Kucuk, the Turkish Cypriot prime minister said on Turkish state media. The vessel left the port of Izmir, in western Turkey, on September 23.
Cyprus is divided into the Greek Cypriot south and breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.
The government in the south began a programme of exploratory oil and gas drilling last week, prompting strong protests from Turkey, which does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration but is the only country to recognise the government in the north.
The deployment of the Turkish vessel and the signing of an oil and gas exploration agreement with the Turkish Cypriot government was seen as being a response to the Greek move.
Leaders discuss issue
George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, spoke with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Turkish counterpart, via telephone on Monday, urging "restraint" on the part of all countries in the eastern Mediterranean, Greek government spokesman Elias Mosialos said.
Papandreou also said that the Greek government backs any activities carried out by the government in Cyprus under its sovereign rights.
Erdogan said that "unilateral" exploration by any side could damage reunification talks and that the Greek Cypriot government should not begin any activities related to oil and gas exploration until a peace accord has been reached, the Associated Press reported, citing an official.
Greece says that any deal signed between Turkey and Turkish Cypriot north to explore for fuels is invalid under international law, as Turkey is the only country that recognises that government.
The Greek Cypriot government, meanwhile, said that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot north should work towards the signing of a peace accord so that the entire population of the island can "enjoy the fruit of their cooperation", including any possible oil and gas wealth.
Stefanos Stefanou, a Cypriot government spokesman, said that if a peace deal is not signed before gas revenues begin to be generated, the government will seek ways in which the fuel wealth can be channeled to Turkish Cypriots as citizens of the Cyprus Republic. He did not provide specifics, saying that these would be worked out at a later date.
Stefanou asserted that Cyprus had international backing for its offshore gas bid, and said that a second licensing round for other areas inside the island's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) would proceed as planned, though he did not specify a date.
Cyprus licensed Noble Energy, a US-based firm, to search for oil and gas near a recently discovered offshore field in Israeli waters, which is estimated to contain more than 450 billion cubic metres of natural gas.
According to a Greek Cypriot defence source, the Turkish Piri Reis was sailing in international waters south of Cyprus, about 80km away from a Greek Cypriot gas rig and between two plots that Cyprus has mapped out for exploration, the Reuters news agency reported.