Turkey has eased tensions with the European Union by recalling a drillship engaged in exploration in disputed waters off the divided island of Cyprus.

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The move comes as Turkey switches focus to the Black Sea where it made a significant gas discovery in August.

Yavuz returns to port

The Yavuz drillship, which had been scheduled to be operating south-west of Cyprus until 12 October, returned to the southern province of Mersin at the weened.

Greece, a close ally of Cyprus, had called the work provocative.

The Turkish Energy Ministry said the vessel was undergoing routine maintenance and would return to a new location which it did not identify.

'A welcome step' - EU

A spokesman for the EU executive, the European Commission, said: “The departure constitutes another welcome step towards de-escalation. We hope for similar and further moves in this direction. It’s an important signal."

However, Turkey is still continuing controversial exploration off Cyprus as its seismic research vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa remains off southeastern Cyprus where its operations there have been extended until 18 October.

Last week, the EU threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, which has angered the powerful bloc by conducting exploration and drilling in waters disputed with members Greece and Cyprus.

The EU warning came amid growing calls within the 27-nation bloc to take a tougher stance against Turkey over seismic and exploratory drilling off Cyprus and Greek islands.

Cyprus was split after a 1974 Turkish invasion spurred by a brief coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece.

Black Sea drive

Turkey is the only country that recognises the self-declared Turkish republic in the north of the Mediterranean island.

Meanwhile, Turkey is now switching its exploration efforts to the Black Sea amid plans to send a third drillship to the area.

The drillship Kanuni will begin exploration in the Black Sea in early 2021, operating alongside the drillship Fatih which Turkey said found 320 billion cubic metres of natural gas reserves with the Tuna-1 well in August.

The 227-metre-long vessel is capable of drilling to a depth of 3000 metres.