Rival navigational warnings and conflicting information about naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean dominated headlines over the weekend, with Germany appearing to be behind a last-ditch effort to buy time and de-escalate tensions between Greece and Turkey.
Time appears to be running out for the Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis, which was scheduled last week to carry out seismic surveys in the eastern Mediterranean under a Navigational Warning (NAVTEX) until August 2. The message was issued over an area off Cyprus and Greece including contested waters.
Turkey is 'holding back' its Oruc Reis research vessel in the southern port of Antalya but is waiting for a signal from Greece for a 'dialogue without conditions'
According to Kathimerini Greece, a message sent out via Berlin and other western capitals by Ibrahim Kalin, the adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey was “holding back” its Oruc Reis research vessel in the southern port of Antalya but was waiting for a signal from Greece for a “dialogue without conditions.”
While Greece has not rejected dialogue, Athens has taken steps including sending warships as a warning it would “do whatever necessary” to protect its sovereign rights. Reports said warships from the Hellenic Navy were on high alert until August 2.
On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country disappointed those who expected to see Turkey “bowing down.”
“We do not have designs on anyone’s right, law, territory, sea, and natural resources. But, we do not allow anyone to step on our own right, law and interest,” Erdogan said.
NAVTEX and anti-NAVTEX
Ankara’s move against the Cypriot EEZ prompted a strong reaction from Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, with the two states issuing their own NAVTEX to warn vessels in the area that the Turkish NAVTEX had been issued in violation of international law.
Last week, US ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt urged Turkey "to halt operations that raise tensions in the region, such as plans to survey for natural resources in areas where Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean."
Further navigational warnings from Greece warned ships to stay away from an area near the island of Kastellorizo due to live fire exercises at sea in the last week of July.
Turkey responded with its own NAVTEX advising mariners that the Greek NAVTEX was in violation of demilitarized status in the area, citing a Paris peace treaty after WWII.
Ankara has accused Athens of adopting “maximalist” claims in the area, saying the island of Kastellorizo, being 2 kilometers away from the Turkish mainland and 580 kilometers off the Greek coast, could not generate continental shelf rights.
Athens maintains that Turkish maritime claims ignore international law and conventions as well as sovereign rights of both Greece and Cyprus.
Gunfire at sea
Reports in the Greek media over the weekend also said American and Hellenic ships were scheduled to carry out a joint exercise.
But according to Kathimerini Greece, the dispatch of the US aircraft carrier south of Crete and the escort of a frigate and a submarine provided by the Hellenic Navy was seen as significant but “not directly related to the crisis” in the Eastern Mediterranean.
On Monday, Turkish news agency Anadolu said the Turkish navy was scheduled to carry out a joint exercise with US aircraft carrier Eisenhower, dismissing reports that the exercise involved Greek warships.
It was later clarified on Monday that the Greek NAVTEX about an exercise involved the country’s coast guard alone.
The Eisenhower was being accompanied by three American ships, according to Turkish media, and was scheduled to take part in an Operation Mediterranean Shield training exercise with the Turkish Navy.
Warnings to mariners over jurisdiction areas
But confusion did not stop there, as another NAVTEX warning was issued by both the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey to warn mariners of gunfire exercises in August by the Russian navy.
Stations in both countries have been issuing rival messages to warn vessels of certain navigational warnings being issued either "unlawfully" or "outside jurisdiction."
Three-way, high-stakes diplomacy push
Kathimerini has reported that according to observers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobilization behind the scenes went beyond the usual limits of German diplomacy.
Political pundits have said that another factor for Berlin, besides holding the rotating EU presidency, was the fact that Erdogan recognizes Merkel’s influence within the EU, while he had a fall out with France’s Emanuel Macron who has sided with Greece and the Republic of Cyprus.