Turkey sails into contested Mediterranean waters, angering Greece

The move comes amid attempts to set a date for talks to defuse the row between Ankara and Athens.

Turkey drilling ship cyprus coast
The two NATO members are at odds over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the region [File:Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Turkey has dispatched a ship to disputed Eastern Mediterranean waters for a new research mission, prompting anger from Greece.

Turkey’s move on Monday to carry out a seismic survey south of the Greek island Kastellorizo is a major escalation of tensions, threatening peace and security in the area, Greece’s foreign ministry said.

Late on Sunday, Turkey’s navy issued an advisory, saying the Oruc Reis ship would conduct a seismic survey over the next 10 days.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said Oruc Reis left the port of Antalya on Monday to resume its survey of hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Energy Minister Fatih Donmez tweeted the Oruc Reis raised its anchor to “take the X-ray” of the Mediterranean seabed, after the completion of maintenance work. Turkey announced last month that it was pulling the Oruc Reis to shore for maintenance and resupply, saying the move would give “diplomacy a chance”.

An international maritime safety advisory, or Navtex, said the exploration would last until October 22.

“The new Turkish NAVTEX on surveys south of Kastellorizo within the Greek continental shelf, at a distance of just 6.5 nautical miles from Greek shores, is a major escalation,” Greece’s foreign ministry said.

Monday’s move showed Ankara was “unreliable” and “does not really truly want a dialogue”, the statement said, as it came days after Turkey committed to proposing a date for exploratory talks at a meeting between Greek and Turkish foreign ministers.

“We call on Turkey to recall its decision,” Greece said, describing the research mission as a “direct threat to regional peace and security”.

It added Ankara was “the foremost factor of instability” in the region “from Libya to the Aegean and Cyprus, Syria, Iraq and now Nagorno-Karabakh”.

Meanwhile, France said Turkey should refrain from new provocations and show good faith.

“We expect Turkey to meet its commitments, abstain from new provocations and show concrete evidence of good faith,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said.

‘Maximalist claims’

But Turkey said Greece had no right to oppose its work 15km (9.3 miles) from its mainland in the eastern Mediterranean and on its continental shelf.

In a statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said the activity range was “fully within Turkish continental shelf”.

“It is unacceptable for there to be opposition against our country, which has the longest coastline to the eastern Mediterranean, operating 15km from its mainland,” it said, adding Greece’s criticisms were “baseless accusations with no standing in international law”.

“Our expectation from Greece is for it to withdraw its maximalist claims that are contrary to international law … put an end to its exercises and military activities that increase tensions in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, and to enter into a sincere dialogue with us.”

Tensions came to a head this summer when each side made overlapping claims to swaths of the eastern Mediterranean, and Turkey dispatched the Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects, infuriating Greece.

Turkey pulled the vessel out in mid-September to “allow for diplomacy” ahead of an October 1 European Union summit.

But at the summit, the bloc said it would punish Turkey and threatened sanctions if it continued its operations in the region, in a move Ankara said further strained Turkey-EU ties.

According to Turkey’s maritime notice, two other vessels, the Ataman and Cengiz Han along with the Oruc Reis exploration ship, will continue working in an area including that south of Kastellorizo, also until October 22.

‘Very regrettable step’

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency and has been mediating between Ankara and Athens, will fly to Cyprus and Greece for talks on Tuesday.

On Monday, the German government said it had “taken note” of Turkey’s announcement on the energy prospecting.

“If there really were exploration in this disputed area of sea, that would be a very regrettable step and, from our point of view, an unwise one,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters in Berlin. “It would set back efforts to reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean and it most certainly would be anything but conducive to the continued development of EU-Turkish relations.”

Seibert reiterated Germany’s insistence that “it is important and necessary for all involved to make an effort to prevent escalations and to resolve their differences in the eastern Mediterranean – including the differences on maritime law – as quickly as possible, in dialogue and on the basis of international law.”

Source: News Agencies