Greek plans to extend territorial waters will include the Aegean - academic

Greece’s plans to extend its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea is only part of a process that will eventually cover all the seas surrounding Greece, academic Christos Rozakis said in Kathimerini English on Thursday.

Last month, former Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias announced plans to extend territorial waters in the Ionian Sea from six to 12 nautical miles via a presidential decree. 

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras later said, instead of a government decree, they would bring the matter to the parliament as a bill. 

Greece says it has the right to extend its territorial waters under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. When ratifying the Convention, Greece declared that “the time and place of exercising these rights … is a matter arising from its national strategy.”

The previously planned decree foresees the extension in the Ionian as just a first stage until the territorial waters of the entire Greek mainland along with the islands of Evia and Crete reach 12 nautical miles, Rozakis said. 

In the Aegean, Greek authorities are considering an approach that will avoid turning the sea into a “Greek lake,” which would be the case if each island applied the 12-mile rule, he said. 

“This is because the legal aspect of the territorial waters would hamper free navigation by enforcing strict controls on shipping routes and surveillance by local authorities to make sure vessels comply with rules on innocent passage. If this is not ensured, the coastal state can interrupt a ship’s route and force it to either comply with the rules or leave its territorial sea,” Rozakis said. 

Athen’s plans to extend territorial waters has ignited a historical conflict between Turkey and Greece as Ankara has repeatedly said that it would not tolerate a shift in maritime borders. 

According to a 1995 Turkish parliamentary declaration, Turkey sees any unilateral Greek move to expand its waters as a cause for war.

Rozakis said that, apart from Greece and Turkey, extension of territorial waters in the Aegean would also involve Russia, which uses the sea as its only route to and from the Black Sea and considers it the only passageway to the Mediterranean.

The United States also has strategic interests in the Black Sea and understands the importance of open sea passage, Rozakis said. 

“This means a different delimitation of the Greek territorial sea is required so as to preserve some open passageways in the Aegean Sea,” said Rozakis, adding that Greece’s agreement with Albania to partially extend maritime borders has brought to the fore the issue of the non-use of the right to extend territorial waters.

“Apart from the fact that the existence of the non-use clause in international law is very problematic, Greece has repeatedly stressed that the 12-mile extension in the Aegean will take place when the country considers that conditions are in place for this move,” Rozakis said.

He also said that it would be strange if the non-use would be a reason to freeze the right to extend territorial waters in the Aegean.