A Greek and a Turkish warship were involved in a collision on Wednesday during a confrontation in the eastern Mediterranean, a Greek defence source said, describing it as an ‘accident’.
Tensions were already high this week after Turkey sent a survey vessel to the region, escorted by warships, to map out sea territory for possible oil and gas drilling – an area where Turkey and Greece both claim jurisdiction.
Turkey’s plan to send its Oruc Reis seismic exploration ship to the disputed area was initially stalled by German attempts to broker a compromise. Encouraged by Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish and Greek officials planned to resume talks over competing maritime claims that had been suspended for several years.
However, the Turkish Government ordered the survey operation to resume after Greece and Egypt announced the signing of a maritime agreement that overlaps with the agreement signed by Turkey and Libya’s Government of National Accord late last year.
The Turkish Oruc Reis survey ship has been moving between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete, escorted by the Turkish navy and shadowed by Greek frigates. On Wednesday one of the Greek frigates, the Limnos, was approaching the survey vessel when it entered the path of one of its Turkish naval escorts, the Kemal Reis.
The Greek frigate manoeuvred to avoid a head-on collision and in the process its bow impacted with the aft section of the Turkish frigate, the defence source said.
“It was an accident,” the source said, adding the Limnos was not damaged. It subsequently took part in a joint military exercise with French warships off Crete on Thursday morning.
Deniz yetki alanlarımızdaki hak, alaka ve menfaatlerimizin yılmaz ve kararlı koruyucuları Türk Deniz Kuvvetleri, MTA ORUÇ REİS araştırma gemimize refakat ve koruma görevine ilk günkü kararlılıkla ve aynı gemilerle devam etmektedir.#MSB #TSK pic.twitter.com/Fab91yxuSW
— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) August 13, 2020
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said France should refrain from steps that escalate tensions. Switzerland has offered to mediate in the row and Turkey has agreed in principle, Cavusoglu told a televised news conference with his Swiss counterpart in Bern, adding Greece will get a response if it interferes with the survey vessel’s mission.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that any attack on a Turkish ship exploring for oil and gas in disputed Mediterranean waters would incur a ‘high price’ and implied that Turkey had already taken measures to respond to the latest incident.
“We said that if you attack our Oruc Reis you will pay a high price, and they got their first answer today,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, without giving details.
Shortly after the collision, French President Emmanuel Macron held a phone conversation with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and ordered the deployment of additional French warships and jet fighters to the area. Greece is planning to raise the matter and ask for solidarity at a meeting between European Union foreign ministers on Friday, a Greek official said.
Greece and Turkey are allies in NATO but their relations have long been fraught with tension. Disputes have ranged from boundaries of offshore continental shelves and airspace to the island of Cyprus. LINK
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