Kathimerini Greece Newsroom
A Greek and a Turkish warship were involved in a mini-collision on Wednesday during a standoff in the eastern Mediterranean, a Greek defense source said, describing it as an "accident."
Tensions have risen 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. EU foreign ministers were due to discuss the issue on Friday.
The Turkish Oruc Reis survey ship has been moving between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete, shadowed by a number of Greek frigates. On Wednesday one of them, the Limnos, was approaching the survey vessel when it came into 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 touched the rear of the Turkish frigate, the defense 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 France off Crete on Thursday morning.
Turkish President 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 suggested Turkey had already acted on that warning.
The EU's Foreign Affairs Council is set to meet later Friday, but no concrete decisions on sanctions against Turkey are expected
"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.
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 ethnically split island of Cyprus. In 1996 they almost went to war over ownership of uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea.
Erdogan, Cavusoglu warn Greece over Oruc Reis
Erdogan said Friday that Greece had attacked its seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis and warned that if it does so again in the future, Turkey will retaliate.
Speaking to reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul, Erdogan said one of the warships accompanying Oruc Reis, the Kemal Reis, had “given the necessary response” to an attack by Greek ships on Thursday. “If this continues, they will receive their answer in kind,” he said.
Erdogan’s threat echoed a warning issued earlier Friday by his foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, who said Greece should not provoke the Oruc Reis in the Eastern Mediterranean “like it did before, or it will get a response.”
Cavusoglu also said that the European Union should no longer “pamper” Greece, and support diplomacy and common sense instead.
Cavusoglu also said France should refrain from steps that escalate tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara is embroiled in a dispute with Greece over Turkish oil and gas exploration in disputed waters.
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 provokes the Turkish Oruc Reis survey vessel in the region.
The French military conducted training exercises with Greek forces in the region on Thursday.
EU Foreign Affairs Council to convene later on Friday
EU Foreign Affairs Ministers will discuss Turkey’s activity in the Eastern Mediterranean during an extraordinary videoconference, scheduled to start at 4.00pm (Cyprus time) with the participation of Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
The extraordinary session of the Foreign Affairs Council was announced Wednesday by the Union’s High Representative, Josep Borrell, who said that they will discuss urgent matters in relation to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Belarus’ Presidential elections and Lebanon’s deadly blast.
A diplomatic source told the Cyprus News Agency that no concrete decision for sanctions is expected to be taken during Friday’s videoconference. There are limitations as to the decisions that can be taken, due to the fact that this is an informal Council which convenes through videoconference, the same source said.
US Senators, Congressmen call on Pompeo to press Turkey over East Med
Two US Senators and two members of Congress have urged US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to pressure Turkey into calling off its drilling plans in the eastern Mediterranean.
“By sending the survey ship Oruc Reis with armed escort into areas over which Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction, Turkey risks an escalation that endangers American strategic interests. We urge you to make it clear to the Erdogan government that continuing this course of action will further create challenges to regional cooperation and US-Turkey relations,” said Congress Members Ted Deutch and Gus Bilirakis in a letter to Pompeo dated Aug. 13.
Describing the rising tensions in the region after Ankara decided to send the survey ship Oruc Reis with armed escort south of Kastellorizo, the two Congressmen called for action.