Turkey reignites East Med tensions as it redeploys survey ship

The move showed Turkey is “unreliable” and “does not really truly want a dialogue,” said Athens.
Monday 12/10/2020
Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis, anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey, last month. (AFP)
Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis, anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey, last month. (AFP)

ISTANBUL--The Turkish ship at the centre of a row with the European Union over offshore exploration rights set sail on Monday to conduct new seismic surveys in the Mediterranean, a move that Athens called a “major escalation” threatening regional peace.

The Oruc Reis plans to conduct work south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, which is close to Turkey’s southern coast, according to a naval advisory issued late on Sunday.

Tensions between Turkey and Greece appear to have risen after a brief calm in which the sides agreed to resume talks that would include discussion of overlapping claims to potential maritime energy resources.

Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez wrote on Twitter that the Oruc Reis had weighed anchor after undergoing maintenance.

“We will continue to explore, dig and protect our rights,” he wrote.

Last month, Ankara withdrew the vessel from contested waters in the Eastern Mediterranean to “allow for diplomacy” before an EU summit at which Cyprus had pushed for sanctions and Turkey.

The new announcement dashed hopes raised when Turkey and Greece agreed to exploratory talks last month after diplomatic efforts led by Germany to defuse the crisis.

The talks had been stalled since 2016 and the expectation was for their resumption in Istanbul but no exact date was given.

The Turkish and Greek foreign ministers also met last week on the sidelines of a security forum in Slovakia’s capital Bratislava in the highest-level talks since tensions began.

The ministers had agreed that a date should be set for the start of exploratory talks, according to a Greek foreign ministry source.

At a summit earlier this month, the European Union threatened sanctions if Turkey failed to stop what the bloc says is illegal drilling and energy exploration activities in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.

Turkey described the threat as “unconstructive” but its latest move will cause further strains in Ankara’s already tense relationship with Brussels.

The German foreign minister is expected to visit Ankara on Wednesday, according to Turkish state broadcaster TRT, where the Eastern Mediterranean will be high on the agenda.

Shipping data on Monday showed the Oruc Reis heading south from the port of Antalya. Two other vessels, the Ataman and Cengiz Han will work in an area including to the south of Kastellorizo until October 22, the naval NAVTEX notice said.

“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,” Greece’s foreign ministry said.

The move, after Ankara committed to proposing a date for exploratory talks, showed Turkey is “unreliable” and “does not really truly want a dialogue,” it said.