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Uneasy Waters: Turkey Stands Down Energy Hunt in Greek Seas

Εθνικός Κήρυξ

Turkey s research vessel, Oruc Reis, anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey, Friday, July 24, 2020. (Ibrahim Laleli/DHA via AP)

After first tweeting – and then deleting –  that the energy research vessel Oruc Reis had begun exploring for oil and gas off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, Turkey insisted it would happen at some point, but the pullback easing worries of a conflict for now.

After raising tension in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, Turkey also returned warships to their bases, said Kathimerini of a volatile situation that could quickly change again, based on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's whims.

Greece's military had been on high alert and the New Democracy government said Turkey's withdrawal wouldn't lessen vigilance. Turkey had issued a so-called NAVTEX, a navigational warning, for other ships to stay out of the area where the energy hunt was being planned in Greece's Continental Shelf.

Turkey disputes those waters, and was backed by the United States, which said the waters are “disputed,” further confusing the situation as Erdogan has the ear of US President Donald Trump, who is said to have given him favors.

The NAVTEX expires on Aug. 2 which means Turkey could still try to use it and enter Greek waters, the Greek government warning that could bring a response, most certainly military as Greek warships were in the area.

There was uncertainty for a few hours after Turkey's Embassy in Washington, D.C. tweeted the Oruc Reis had already begun exploring for oil and gas but that was deleted and another posted that the vessel announced a seismic survey on July 21, not clearing up the head scratching over what was going on.

But it has kept its tweets defending the research and trying to discredit Greece's position that the research activities are getting close to Greek waters, especially after a deal Turkey signed with Libya dividing the waters between them and claiming areas off Greek islands and plans to drill off Crete.

US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt repeated the US' position that islands have “exactly the same” continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone rights as does any mainland territory despite the US State Department saying it doesn't in this case.

"I have also made a point on many occasions and I will make it again today, that the United States adheres to the principal of international maritime law that islands, including Kastellorizo,” Pyatt told the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA) earlier.