Greece coastguard fires on ‘suspicious’ Turkish cargo ship

Turkey says no casualties reported in the incident near the Turkish island of Bozcaada and demands a swift investigation.

Greek coastguard
Members of the Turkish Coast Guard give a warning to a Greece Coast Guard ship, which allegedly crossed into Turkish waters [File: Erdem Sahin/EPA]

Greek coastguard ships opened fire on a cargo vessel sailing in international waters in the Aegean Sea, escalating tensions with Turkey that have mounted in recent weeks.

There were no casualties in the shooting 11 nautical miles (20km) southwest of the Turkish island of Bozcaada on Saturday, a Turkish coastguard statement said.

After “harassment fire” from two Greek vessels, two Turkish coastguard ships went to the area and the Greek boats left, it added.

The Greek coastguard confirmed it fired “warning shots” at a ship “moving suspiciously” in Greek territorial waters off the island of Lesbos.

The captain of the cargo ship refused to allow an inspection and was later escorted to nearby Turkish waters, said Greek coastguard officials, noting they informed maritime authorities in Turkey about the incident.

The area is known for many ships bringing migrants from Turkey to the European Union countries of Greece and Italy. The Greek coastguard says it regularly checks ships behaving suspiciously in the Aegean.

Embroiled in disputes

The neighbouring countries have been embroiled in disputes for decades and friction has ratcheted up in recent weeks, with both sides alleging airspace violations. Greek officials have raised concerns about another outbreak of conflict in Europe following Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Ankara has accused Athens of “occupying” some Aegean islands and harassing Turkish jets with Russian-made S-300 defence systems stationed there. Athens denies the claims.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Greece it would pay a “heavy price” if it continues to harass Turkish fighter jets over the Aegean and hinted at military action.

Greece says it needs to defend its eastern islands, including tourist hotspots Rhodes and Kos, which are much closer to Turkey than to the Greek mainland, against its larger and militarily stronger neighbour.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Sunday he remained open to a meeting with Erdogan.

“I consider recent statements by the Turkish president unacceptable. However, we will always try to keep communication channels open,” Mitsotakis said, adding that an informal EU summit early October in Prague might be a chance for this to happen.

This handout photograph released by the Turkish Defence Ministry on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel 'Oruc Reis' (C) as it is escorted by Turkish Naval ships in the Mediterranean Sea, off Antalya on August 10, 2020. - Greece on August 11, demanded that Turkey withdraw a research ship at the heart of their growing dispute over maritime rights and warned it would defend its sovereignty, calling for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers to resolve the crisis. Tensions were stoked August 10, when Ankara dispatched the research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by Turkish naval vessels off the Greek island of Kastellorizo in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Turkish government protested to Greek authorities, with Ankara demanding a swift investigation and explanation [File: Turkish Defence Ministry via AFP]

‘Disregard of rules’

Video footage from Saturday purportedly shows a Greek coastguard vessel alongside the Anatolian cargo ship as the sound of about a dozen gunshots is heard. A crew member speaks in Turkish, saying they are being attacked by the Greek coastguard.

The video, which was released by the Turkish coastguard and seems to have been filmed on a mobile phone, shows what appears to be a bullet hole in a window and in the ceiling of the cargo ship’s bridge.

The Turkish statement said the gunfire was “in disregard of the rules of international law”. The 18 crew members of the Anatolian consisted of six Egyptians, four Somalis, five Azerbaijanis and three Turks.

A Turkish prosecutor ordered an investigation. The country has also protested to Greek authorities, with Ankara demanding a swift investigation and explanation.

The Anatolian was anchored on Sunday in the Dardanelles Strait off the Turkish coast, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Last week, the Greek government wrote letters to NATO, the EU, and the United Nations, asking them to formally condemn increasingly aggressive talk by Turkish officials and suggesting tensions could escalate into open conflict.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the behaviour of Turkey, also a NATO member, risked “a situation similar to that currently unfolding in some other part of our continent”, referring to the war in Ukraine.

Source: News Agencies