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Turkey withdraws contentious research ship to port ahead of key EU summit

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The research vessel was withdrawn to port on Monday morning
The research vessel was withdrawn to port on Monday morning   -   Copyright  Burhan Ozbilici/AP
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Turkey has announced it has called a research ship at the centre of a drilling row with Greece back to port ahead of a summit of EU leaders next week.

The country's Energy and Natural Resources Ministry said on Monday morning that the Oruç Reis vessel had "completed the two-dimensional seismic research" it was conducting off Demre, a town on the southern Turkish coast.

The ship had started work on August 10 and has now returned to port in Antalya, the ministry added.

It comes less than a fortnight before European leaders meet for an EU Council summit on December 11.

The Oruç Reis has been at the centre of a dispute with Turkey's neighbour Greece over undersea drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

The two countries and Cyprus have overlapping claims of sovereignty over waters in the region.

The Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources announced the ship has returned to port

There is growing EU disquiet at its disputes with Turkey on issues including migrants from Syria and Afghanistan, the Libyan civil war, and sea exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's tone towards the EU has also become increasingly belligerent as he steered his country towards military agreements with Russia.

Several member states, including Greece, France and Austria, are pushing for sanctions including an arms embargo, although these are understood to be opposed by Germany, Italy and Spain.

But in recent weeks Erdoğan has adopted a more conciliatory tone, telling a meeting of his governing AK Party on November 21: "We see ourselves in Europe, not in a different place. We foresee building our future with the EU."

Turkey began accession talks in 2005, nearly two decades after it formally applied for membership in 1987.

But multiple chapters in the negotiations have since been frozen because of a dispute over the divided island of Cyprus.

There has been very little progress over the last six years.

Some European politicians, including many in the European Parliament, believe the membership talks should be formally suspended or cancelled altogether.