Turkey extends disputed East Med gas exploration mission again

The Turkish navy says the Oruc Reis research vessel will remain in the area until November 14, as Athens condemns the move.

The Mediterranean dispute escalated in August when Turkey first sent the Oruc Reis into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus [File: AP]

Turkey has once again extended a hydrocarbon research mission in contested waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, ignoring Greek warnings that such moves undercut efforts to resolve the dispute between the NATO allies.

The Turkish navy said on Sunday in a message on the international maritime alert system NAVTEX that the Oruc Reis vessel would stay in the area for seismic investigations until November 14, extending its activities from the previously announced end date of November 4.

The latest deployment comes right after Turkey and Greece had toned down some of their bellicose rhetoric following a deadly earthquake that hit both countries.

However, Athens soon responded to the Turkish move, denouncing what it described as “Turkey’s illegal conduct,” and demanding that it withdraw from the area.

The Greek foreign ministry said in a tweet that minister Nikos Dendias will inform the country’s allies and partners of the latest developments.

“This (Turkish) action only increases tensions in a vulnerable region where attention is currently focused on aid and support and solidarity (after the earthquake),” the foreign ministry said.

Dispute flared in August

The dispute escalated in August when Turkey first sent Oruc Reis into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

Ankara withdrew Oruc Reis last month to allow for diplomacy before an October 2 European Union summit where Cyprus and Greece sought sanctions against Turkey.

After the summit, the bloc said it would punish Turkey if it continued its operations in the region, a move Ankara said further strained Turkey-EU ties.

Turkey sent the vessel out again on October 12, prompting an angry response from various members of the international organisation. Turkey has extended the duration of the vessel’s exploration multiple times since then.

The two countries have been in a dispute over the extent of their continental shelves and their claims to hydrocarbon resources in the region.

Athens says Ankara is breaking international law by prospecting in Greek waters and has been urging the EU to reconsider its customs union to punish Turkey’s “imperial fantasies”.

Turkey insists it is within its rights in the energy-rich Mediterranean region, saying not all Greeks islands are large enough to count when it comes to delineating the extent of Greek sovereignty.

Concerns remain high over a potential military conflict between Greece and Turkey. Both have been carrying out manoeuvres in the region with frigates and fighter jets.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies