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The New Arab Staff

Turkey research ship returns home as possible tough EU sanctions loom

Earlier this month, Ankara extended the vessel's research mission until November 29 [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 30 November, 2020

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Turkey's research ship has returned to port less than two before EU leaders will decide whether to slap further sanctions on Ankara.

Turkey's research ship Oruc Reis arrived at port on Monday from contested waters in the Mediterranean, ahead of a mid-December EU summit in which leaders will decide whether to impose further sanctions on Ankara.

Turkey's energy ministry announced the exploration vessel had "completed" its mission which began in August.

"Our ship, which has collected 10,995 km of 2D seismic data, has returned to the Antalya port," the ministry said on Twitter.

Tracking data from Refinitive Eikon showed Oruc Reis had returned to port in Antalya. It also showed a Turkish drill ship in waters off Turkey's southern coast and another seismic survey vessel out at sea, south of Cyprus.

Earlier this month, Ankara extended the vessel's research mission until 29 November. The move came in response to what Turkey saw as unsatisfactory outcomes from an EU summit in October, having briefly withdrawn Oruc Reis from the waters to "allow for diplomacy".

Turkey and Greece have opposing claims to continental shelves and rights to gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Tensions between the NATO members flared up in August when Ankara deployed its ship to locate drilling prospects in waters also claimed by Athens, triggering a fierce war of words with EU member states.

The bloc extended a sanctions framework against Ankara by one year, early this month, including visa bans and asset freezes on individual and entities associated with what it condemns as Turkey's "unauthorised drilling activities of hydrocarbons".

When Turkey withdrew Oruc Reis from the disputed zone in mid-September for maintenance work, it raised hopes for talks with Greece.

Yet this was dampened when the ship was sent back into the area. Greece maintains there can be no talks until it is withdrawn.

On Thursday, a government spokesman for Athens said Turkey had so far taken no action to avoid further sanctions from EU, whose leaders will meet on 10 to 11 December to discuss a range of issues, including the Eastern Mediterranean dispute.

Read more: Turkey still risks EU sanctions over sea dispute

On 1 October, EU leaders said they would consider sanctions against Turkey at the December meeting "in case of renewed unilateral actions or provocations in breach of international law".

Turkey argues that the EU has unfairly sided with Greece and Cyprus in the dispute and says it has every right to engage in its gas exploration activities in the contested area.

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