Turkey has issued a new Navigation Telex (NAVTEX) for its research vessel Oruc Reis to conduct seismic operations within the Greek continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean, prompting a new round of tensions between the two NATO allies.
The NAVTEX issued on Monday foresees that the vessel will be searching for oil and gas from October 12 to 22, with Oruc Reis expected to pass very close to the Greek complex of Kastellorizo, Ro and Stroggili, without entering however, the country’s territorial waters. Two other vessels, the Ataman and Cengiz Han will accompany Oruc Reis over the next ten days.
Reacting to the announcement, Greece issued its own counter NAVTEX and called on Ankara to immediately recall the decision, labelling the move as a “direct threat to peace in the region.”
“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,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Athens also vowed to push the EU to adopt sanctions against Turkey, as the bloc’s leaders decided in October during an extraordinary summit to punish Turkey if it continued operations in the region, a move that could lead to sanctions as soon as December.
In a counter statement on Monday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry opposed to Athens’ comments, citing that “It is unacceptable for there to be opposition against our country, which has the longest coastline to the Eastern Mediterranean, operating 15 kilometers from its mainland.”
It added that the Greece’s criticism was “baseless accusations with no standing in international law.”
Earlier in the month, the two NATO allies had agreed to resume exploratory talks on the Eastern Mediterranean, amid mounting calls by the European Union to proceed with dialogue. They also agreed to set up a mechanism, which is designed to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents in the region and includes the creation of a hotline between Athens and Ankara that will facilitate deconfliction at sea or in the air.
The new NAVTEX came two days before the visit of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to Ankara, which aimed at kick-starting these talks. Athens supported that Ankara’s move to continue with the oil and gas explorations south of its island of Kastellorizo showed that Turkey is “unreliable” and “does not really truly want a dialogue.”
“Turkey has proven it lacks credibility. All those who believed Turkey meant all it said before the European summit of October 1-2 now stand corrected,” Greek government spokesperson Stelios Petsas said on Monday.