Turkey says it is extending a gas exploration mission in the disputed Eastern Mediterranean in a move likely to further escalate tensions in the region, defying warnings from Greece and the European Union.
The Oruc Reis research vessel was scheduled to end its work on Thursday, but will now remain at sea until October 27, the Turkish navy said in a NAVTEX maritime announcement.
Two other vessels, the Ataman and Cengiz Han, along with Oruc Reis, will also work in an area southeast of the Greek island of Rhodes, according to the announcement.
NATO members Turkey and Greece are at odds over conflicting claims to hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean and overlapping views on the extent of their continental shelves.
Tensions flared in August when Ankara sent Oruc Reis to waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
Ankara had withdrawn Oruc Reis last month to “allow for diplomacy” before an EU summit at which Cyprus sought sanctions against Turkey, but sent it back this month, prompting an angry rebuke from Greece, France and Germany.
After the summit, the bloc said it would punish Turkey if it continued its operations in the region – a move Ankara said led to a further strain in Turkey-EU ties.
Athens says Ankara is breaking the international law by prospecting in Greek waters, including near the island of Kastellorizo.
Turkey insists it is within its rights in the energy-rich Mediterranean region, saying the tiny island of Kastellorizo should not count for imposing Greek sovereignty.
Earlier on Wednesday, Greece urged the EU to reconsider its customs union with Turkey in response to Ankara’s exploration in the Mediterranean, deploring what it termed Turkey’s “imperial fantasies”.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused Turkey of playing out “imperialist fantasies” in the neighbourhood, while his government has asked the EU to look into suspending its customs union with Turkey.
Meanwhile, Turkey condemned a joint declaration by Greece, Cyprus and Egypt criticising Ankara for its “illegal” activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The leaders of the three countries met in Cyprus on Wednesday for talks over tensions in the region before releasing the declaration.
The Turkish Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday slammed the trio’s claims targeting Turkey as “baseless”, and called on these countries to change their “hostile policy” against Ankara.