Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has convened the government’s national security council after Turkey announced its research vessel would be conducting exploratory drilling in the eastern Mediterranean in an area between Cyprus and Greece.
The council, which includes the ministers of foreign affairs and defence, met on Monday as Greece’s navy ships were monitoring the Turkish seismic research ship Oruc Reis.
“We are in complete political and operational readiness,” Minister of State George Gerapetritis said on state television ERT. “Most of the fleet is ready to be deployed wherever necessary,” he said.
Turkey issued a Navtex, or international maritime safety message, announcing Oruc Reis and two auxiliary vessels would be conducting exploratory drilling from Monday until August 23.
Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Donmez said Monday that the Oruc Reis had arrived in its area of operation from its anchorage off Turkey’s southern coast, near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
He also said “83 million back the Oruc Reis”, referring to Turkey’s population.
Tension has been high in the region in recent months over drilling rights and maritime boundaries.
Late last month, Turkey had said it was suspending its exploratory drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, and the move was seen as somewhat defusing the situation.
But last week, Ankara slammed a deal signed between Greece and Egypt delineating maritime boundaries and the countries’ exclusive economic zones for drilling rights.
Last year, Turkey signed a similar deal with the UN-recognised Libyan government in Tripoli, sparking outrage in Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, who all said the Turkish-Libyan deal infringed on their economic rights in the Mediterranean.
NATO allies and neighbours Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over a wide variety of issues, including sea boundaries, and have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s.
Recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the east Mediterranean have led to a spike in tension.
Mitsotakis spoke on Monday morning with European Council President Charles Michel, informing him about the Greek-Egyptian agreement and the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, officials said.
In a television interview on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey and Greece had been holding talks in Berlin for more than two months and were on the verge of issuing a joint statement when the Greek-Egyptian agreement emerged.
“The moment the agreement with Egypt was announced, we received a clear instruction from our president: ‘You are halting the talks. Inform the Germans and the Greeks, we are not pressing ahead with the negotiations,'” Kalin told CNN-Turk television.
“This is another move to keep Turkey out of the eastern Mediterranean and to restrict it to the Gulf of Antalya,” Kalin said.
Kalin said Turkey is in favour of resolving the dispute through dialogue. “But it is the Greek side that disrupted the agreement and broke the trust,” he said.