Turkish Prime Minister and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras talk after Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issues warnings to Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration over drilling for hydrocarbons in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.

Tensions around the Imia islets in the Aegean have remained high since the two NATO allies came to the brink of war over them more than 20 years ago.
Tensions around the Imia islets in the Aegean have remained high since the two NATO allies came to the brink of war over them more than 20 years ago. (AA)

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in a phone call on Tuesday that Greece needed to take steps to decrease tension in the Aegean Sea, a source from the Turkish prime minister's office said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a warning to Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration in southern Cyprus and international companies exploring for gas in the eastern Mediterranean not to "step out of line" and encroach on Turkey's territorial sovereignty.

Meanwhile, Greek authorities said a Turkish coast guard vessel rammed a Greek coast guard boat off a couple of uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea over which the two NATO allies nearly went to war in 1996, known as Imia/Kardak Crisis.

Erdogan made the warning in an address to legislators of his governing party as Turkish navy vessels continued to impede a rig from reaching a location off Cyprus where Italian energy company Eni is scheduled to drill for gas.

Turkey opposes the drilling, saying it disregards the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot administration says it has a sovereign right to drill, and that if the search is successful, any income would be shared equitably if the island is reunified.

Turkey, however, insists that no drilling should commence until a deal is reached with the Turkish Cypriots.

The European Union on Monday cautioned Turkey to respect the territory of its member states and to avoid ratcheting up tensions.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkey's military intervention in 1974, as outlined by an international treaty.

The Turkish intervention came after a failed coup by the Greek military junta which sought to overthrow the island’s legitimate authority and unite Cyprus with Greece.

Opportunistic

The island joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognised southern part enjoys full membership benefits. 

Many in Turkey also dispute Greek ownership of uninhabited Aegean islets near Turkey's coastline.

"Opportunistic attempts concerning gas exploration off Cyprus and concerning Aegean islets are not escaping our attentions," Erdogan said. "We are warning those who step out of line with miscalculations in Cyprus and the Aegean.”

Greece's coast guard said nobody was injured in the collision around midnight on Monday, although the Greek vessel suffered damage to the stern where the Turkish boat hit it with its bows. It says the precise circumstances of the incident are still unclear.

The coast guard vessels were off the uninhabited Imia—Kardak in Turkish—islets, which both countries claim, and are prime fishing spots, attracting fishing boats from both countries.

Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos voiced concern but appealed for restraint.

"Right now there is no need to pour more oil on the flames. What is needed is calm, level-headedness and a serious handling of the situation," he said, commenting on the collision.

"Recently we have been seeing increasingly provocative behaviour from Turkey, which is a source of very serious concern to us," he told private Alpha radio.

Tension around the islets has remained high since the two NATO allies came to the brink of war over them more than 20 years ago, when they deployed their navies to the spot and a Greek helicopter crashed into the sea, killing three crewmen.

Source: AP