Tensions in the Mediterranean: Turkey once again deploys its seismic vessel

Tensions promise to be revived. TheOruç Reis, the Turkish ship whose presence in the Eastern Mediterranean in August and September had been the subject of strong tensions between Turkey and Greece, will continue its exploration work. On Sunday October 11, the Turkish navy revealed that the seismic vessel will be “from October 12 to 20” in the same area.

TheOruç Reis will operate activities in the region, including south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, according to the message sent by the maritime alert system Navtex. Athens and Ankara experienced a month of great tension after the deployment by Turkey, from August 10 to mid-September, of this seismic boat, escorted by warships, to carry out explorations off this Greek island, in 2 kilometers from the Turkish coast, an area potentially rich in natural gas. Greece claims power over the waters surrounding Kastellorizo, but Turkey rejects its dominance, insisting that it has more extensive rights in the eastern Mediterranean due to its longer coastline.

The ship had returned to the Turkish coast in September

Ankara began by deploying theOruç Reis and military ships in those disputed waters on August 10 and lengthened their mission, ignoring repeated calls from the European Union and Athens to end it. The ship will be joined during the next “seismic sounding” mission by two other ships called Ataman and Cengiz Han, according to Navtex. TheOruç Reis had returned to Turkish shores last month, while in waters claimed by Greece, in what many hoped was a sign of de-escalation to resolve this crisis.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan then declared that this withdrawal was intended to give diplomacy a chance. But Turkish officials also explained that the ship was just going to perform scheduled maintenance, and that it would return to the Eastern Mediterranean to continue its work.

Threats of European sanctions

Hope had reappeared, however, when Ankara and Athens agreed to conduct negotiations last month, especially following German-led diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis. Discussions had been delayed since 2016 and were supposed to resume in Istanbul, but no date was ever given. The highest-level exchanges since the tensions began took place last week when Turkish and Greek foreign ministers met on the sidelines of a security forum in Bratislava, Slovakia.

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At a summit earlier this month, the EU threatened Ankara with sanctions if Turkey fails to halt energy exploration activities in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece. Turkey had described the threat as “unconstructive”, but its latest move will add strain to relations between Ankara and Brussels. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is due to travel to Ankara on Wednesday, according to Turkish state media TRT, for a meeting in which the issue of the Eastern Mediterranean will take center stage.

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