FILE PHOTO Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is escorted by Turkish Navy frigate TCG Gemlik (F-492) in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus, August 6, 2019 REUTERS
Turkey said it plans to extend its search for gas in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean, despite EU calls to defuse a crisis that has seen tensions soar with other countries in the region.
The navy said in a statement issued late Saturday that the drill ship Yavuz, which has been based off Cyprus for the past few months, will explore off the southwestern coast of the island from August 18 to September 15.
Turkey's actions in the eastern Mediterranean have put it at loggerheads with its uneasy NATO ally Greece and the rest of the EU, with France announcing last week it would bolster its presence in the region in support of Athens.
The EU has repeatedly called on Ankara to halt its energy exploration off Cyprus, arguing that the drilling is illegal because it infringes on the island's exclusive economic zone.
But Turkey remains steadfast, saying it has a right to search for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean, where regional nations are racing for riches after the discovery of large energy deposits.
"We strongly advise against going to the search area," the Turkish navy warned in its statement.
Last week, Ankara sent the seismic research vessel Oruc Reis, escorted by warships, to an area claimed by Greece, triggering the ire of Athens and the EU.
On Friday, EU foreign ministers voiced solidarity with Greece and called for a de-escalation of the crisis.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that Ankara was ready for dialogue but insisted: "We will not back down in the face of sanctions and threats."
The defence ministry meanwhile published photographs of naval manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean, showing warships escorting another seismic research vessel, the Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa.