Both Greece and Turkey have warships in the eastern Mediterranean after Ankara sent a research vessel to carry out seismic research for energy resources in an area that it says is on its continental shelf.

Turkey's MTA Oruc Reis seismic vessel, which is escorted by Turkish navy, is seen offshores of eastern Mediterranean on August 10, 2020.
Turkey's MTA Oruc Reis seismic vessel, which is escorted by Turkish navy, is seen offshores of eastern Mediterranean on August 10, 2020. (AA)

Turkey will issue gas exploration and drilling licences in the eastern Mediterranean, for the western part of its continental shelf.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said drilling activities will be conducted in August, adding Ankara will make no concessions.   

"We will defend rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean, and not make any concessions," he said on Tuesday at a news conference following his meeting with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov.

Greece has said it will seek an emergency EU meeting to address the issue.

The two NATO allies vehemently disagree about their overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, based on conflicting views of how far their continental shelves extend in waters dotted with islands.

On Monday, Turkey sent exploration vessel Oruc Reis into a disputed area, ending a brief period of calm brokered by Germany. 

Ankara said a maritime deal Greece signed with Egypt last week showed it could not trust Athens and vowed to continue surveying waters that are also claimed by Greece and Cyprus. Last year, Turkey signed a maritime deal with the UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli.

Cavusoglu said Turkey's Oruc Reis would continue its work and Ankara would issue new seismic exploration and drilling licenses by the end of August.

"Our determination is unfaltering here," he told reporters in Ankara. "We will not compromise in any way from this."

READ MORE: Mediterranean neighbours cannot stop Turkey from ensuring its rights

Turkey ready for dialogue

According to Turkey's top diplomat, Ankara's pause in operations was not reciprocated by the Greek administration and Greek Cypriots and Turkey reactivated its drilling vessels in response.

"We will defend rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean, and not make any concessions," he said, adding seismic and drilling activities would be conducted this month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking after a four-hour-long Cabinet meeting on Monday night, warned that Turkey would not confine its offshore exploration to its immediate coastline, but otherwise appeared conciliatory.

“Let’s come together as Mediterranean countries. Let’s find a formula that’s acceptable for everyone, that protects everyone’s rights,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

READ MORE: The Eastern Mediterranean dispute: is there light at the end of the tunnel?

International Law

At the heart of the issue is how a country’s continental shelf is calculated and whether islands should be included in the calculation. 

Turkey argues they should not.

Hassan Imran, head of legal aid organisation OneJustice, told TRT World there is no legal basis to Greece's objections, given that the Greek islands in the region, Kastellorizo in particular, cut off Turkey's continental shelf which violates the principle of equity enshrined in international law. 

The principle is central to international law on maritime boundary delimitation.

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Energy exploration in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean is a frequent source of tension between Turkey and a bloc of its neighbours including Greece, Cyprus and Israel.

Escalating tensions

Tension remained high on Tuesday between Greece and Turkey, both of which have warships in the eastern Mediterranean after Turkey sent a research vessel to carry out seismic research for energy resources in an area that turkey says is on its continental shelf.

Greece said it would request an emergency meeting of the European Union foreign affairs council, the prime minister’s office said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had summoned a defence meeting on Monday after Turkey issued an advisory that its research vessel had been dispatched. 

Turkey and Greece have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over drilling exploration rights.

READ MORE: Turkey declares Egypt-Greece maritime deal 'null and void'

READ MORE: Greek actions stifle a resolution in the Eastern Mediterranean

Source: TRTWorld and agencies