Turkey-Greece tensions re-escalate as Turkish survey ship heads into Med

(Updated with statement from Turkish Foreign Ministry)

Greece said on Monday that Turkey’s plans to re-deploy a seismic survey ship to disputed waters in the Mediterranean amounted to a major escalation of tensions, threatening peace and security in the region.

The Turkish navy issued a so-called NAVTEX advisory on Sunday, saying the Oruç Reis, anchored at the southern port of Antalya to allow the two countries to negotiate a solution to the dispute, would search for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean for the next 10 days, including near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

“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 on Monday.

The Oruç Reis was sailing along the Turkish coastline about 50 kilometres from Antalya in a southwesterly direction at 11:30 a.m. local time, according to marinetraffic.com. Katellorizo is less than 100 kilometres southwest of that location. The ship had been anchored at Antalya late Sunday.

Greece and Turkey have agreed to hold talks to end the territorial dispute, which forced Germany and the United States to intervene diplomatically, but no date has been set. The two sides reached a preliminary deal for military de-escalation during NATO-sponsored negotiations between lower level officials last month.

The European Union has threatened sanctions against Turkey should it resume the search for hydrocarbons, which it labelled as provocative and illegal after a summit of its political leaders on Oct. 1-2.

On Monday, Greece issued a counter NAVTEX for the same area from the island of Crete, saying that an unauthorised station had broadcast an advisory for “illegal activity in an area that overlaps the Greek continental shelf”, Kathimerini newspaper reported.

Later on Monday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying the Oruç Reis vessel would be conducting activities in its own continental shelf.

The ministry condemned the the Greek Foreign Ministry’s reaction to the NAVTEX issued for Oruç Reis, saying it was based on Greece’s "maximalist maritime jurisdiction claims.’’

Political and military tensions between Turkey and Greece, which have simmered for decades, came to a head in August when Turkey dispatched the Oruç Reis, accompanied by its navy, to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects adjacent to Kastellorizo, which is located just off Turkey’s coastline.

The start of negotiations between Turkey and Greece is also facing possible derailment because of an argument over the scope of the discussions.

Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said on Sunday that Turkey disagreed with comments by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at the weekend that the talks would be focused solely on the delimitation of maritime waters and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

The Greek assertion “does not reflect reality”, Aksoy said, "These talks are aimed at resolving all interrelated issues between the two countries.”