A Turkish research vessel will continue searching for oil and gas off Cyprus, Turkish Cypriot authorities said on Tuesday, extending a simmering standoff between rival sides on the ethnically-split island over offshore gas reserves.
The row has already led to Greek Cypriots suspending participation in peace talks with estranged Turkish Cypriots, and on Monday they said they would not return as long as the vessel remained in the area.
Barbaros, a seismographic research vessel commissioned by Turkey's state petroleum company TPAO, has been carrying out surveys in an area in the east Mediterranean claimed by Cyprus under international conventions.
Turkey, which is not a signatory to the United Nations Law of the Sea, does not recognize Cypriot jurisdiction
The vessel, which had been docked in harbor for the past several days, would resume activities after Greek Cypriots said they would continue "unilateral activities" in exploring for gas, the Turkish Cypriot foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.
"The Turkish Cypriot side will not remain unresponsive to the unilateral activities carried out by the (Greek Cypriots) which disregard the inherent rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriot people," it said.
Cyprus and its U.S. partner Noble Energy discovered natural gas off its southern coast in 2011. A consortium comprised of Italy's ENI and South Korea's Kogas is now drilling in another area for gas.
Their research work is exclusively focused on Cyprus's southern rim off territory controlled by an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, and not north which is administered by an unrecognized Turkish Cypriot state.
The Turkish Cypriot side would continue to take "all necessary steps" to protect its interests. That included drilling in cooperation with Turkey, the foreign ministry said.
It did not specify where.
Greek Cypriots say Turkish Cypriots can reap the benefits of any gas finds as part of a peace deal.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.
(Reporting By Michele Kambas, editing by William Hardy)