Turkey expands 'search and rescue' area to cover Blue Homeland

Turkey said on Saturday that it has expanded its search and rescue area of responsibility to cover the 'Blue Homeland', which lays claim to expansive territorial waters in surrounding seas..

Adil Karaismailoğlu, Turkey's Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, announced Ankara's decision on Twitter including the map of the areas Turkey says it will assume responsibility for.

Greece said the decision was not based on operational criteria and did not serve the purpose of protecting human life.

"It is clear from this latest move, which is purely politically motivated, that Turkey has no qualms about causing confusion and thereby endangering human lives," the Greek foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The Turkish search and rescue region which is arbitrarily defined in the new Turkish law, like the one defined in the Turkish law of 1988, is illegal to the extent that it overlaps areas of Greek sovereignty and jurisdiction, thus producing no legal effect." 

Athens said that international treaties had clearly defined that Greece is responsible for such operations through the Greek Joint Rescue Coordination Center located in Piraeus.

Turkey redeployed its Oruç Reis search vessel near the Greek island of Kastellorizo, reigniting tensions between Athens and Ankara over sea boundaries and energy drilling rights, and casting doubt on the future of the planned resumption of talks between the countries to resolve disputes in the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece is incensed by several perceived Turkish offences, from Ankara’s sending thousands of refugees to the Greek border earlier this year to regular confrontations in the Aegean Sea and Turkish warplanes’ violations of Greek airspace.

Turkey’s increased aggressiveness in the eastern Mediterranean is in line with a new foreign policy approach called ‘Blue Homeland’. The architect of this idea is retired naval officer Cem Gürdeniz, who was arrested in 2011 as part of the military coup plot trial known as Sledgehammer, which was key to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government’s effort to end military tutelage in Turkey.

Gürdeniz was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison, but was acquitted and released in 2015. Following the failed coup a year later, Gürdeniz emerged as a key nationalist and anti-Western voice in Turkish media just as the government began promoting a more nationalist vision in line with that of its far-right parliamentary partner.