ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s top diplomat said Monday that a research ship at the center of a diplomatic row with Greece pulled back to shore for maintenance and resupply, but its survey of hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean will continue.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Oruc Reis had docked at the southern port of Antalya after weeks at sea. Cavusoglu told private broadcaster NTV that this was incorrectly interpreted as a “retreat” because a new Navtex, or international maritime safety advisory, was not issued.
Turkey’s energy ministry, in a statement on Twitter, said the ship’s return was “routine” for monthly maintenance and personnel changes. The research vessel has so far gathered 3,525 kilometers of seismic data, according to the ministry.
The foreign minister said he did not expect the European Union to sanction Turkey over the dispute. The EU has said it supports member states Greece and Cyprus, which have called for sanctions along with France. EU officials were drawing up a list of possible sanctions and could decide in an upcoming summit on Sep. 24-25.
Cavusoglu said the threat of sanctions would only increase Turkey’s “determination.” Turkey has been involved in EU membership talks since 2005 but progress has been extremely slow.
The lead spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy at the European Commission said the research vessel’s docking doesn’t change the EU foreign ministers’ message. “The EU needs to see the end of unilateral actions in the eastern Mediterranean, which are being perceived as provocation by some of our EU member states,” Peter Stano said.
He added that an EU foreign ministers meeting next Monday and the upcoming summit would be opportunities for member states to discuss EU-Turkey relations.
Turkish survey vessels and drill ships are prospecting for oil and gas in waters where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights. Turkey accuses Athens of trying to grab an unfair share of maritime resources and Cyprus of discarding the rights of Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically divided island.
The dispute has triggered a military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean. Nominal NATO allies Turkey and Greece both dispatched warships to the area where the Oruc Reis was engaged in seismic research and conducted military exercises to assert their claims.
NATO intervened, organizing talks between the two countries’ militaries to prevent a potential armed conflict.
Greek officials on Sunday welcomed the survey ship’s return to port.
Cavusoglu and the energy ministry said research ships Barbaros Hayreddin, currently sailing east of Cyprus, and Yavuz, in waters southwest of Cyprus, are continuing their work.
The foreign minister reiterated Turkey’s calls for bilateral dialogue without preconditions.
Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.