Aegean boat crash sparks diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Greece

Aegean boat crash sparks diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Greece
The tiny disputed islands known as Imia in Greek and Kardak in Turkish.
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade February 13, 2018

Greece’s foreign ministry sent an official complaint to Turkey on February 13, saying that a Turkish coast guard patrol vessel had rammed a Greek coastguard boat the previous night. 

The incident took place close to the islands known as Imia in Greek and Kardak in Turkish, which are claimed by both countries and are a source of continuing conflict. The two countries came close to war over ownership of the uninhabited islands back in 1995. 

The Greek ministry’s director general for political affairs summoned Turkey’s ambassador in Athens over the boat crash on February 13. “Dangerous incidents such as these, which place human lives at risk, are the result of the escalating and provocative conduct that Turkey has increasingly exhibited in recent days,” the Greek ministry’s statement said. 

A war of words erupted following the statement, with Ankara responding with its own statement saying that the Greek side “distorted the facts, as is always the case”.

The Turkish foreign ministry argued that the incident was caused by “dangerous manoeuvres” carried out by Greek coastguard boats. The Turkish statement also refers to “increasing tension in the Aegean Sea” and appealed to the Greek side to “end these dangerous actions”.

Athens shot back later in the day, with foreign ministry spokesperson Alexandros Yennimatas quoted as saying: "Along with any sense of measure, Turkey has lost its common sense. Apart from violating international law, it demonstrates lack of knowledge on geography.”

However, the two prime ministers discussed the issue by telephone late on February 13 in an attempt to defuse tensions, according to an unnamed source quoted by AP. 

Even before the incident, tensions in the region were already on the rise over Cyprus’ gas exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, which sparked a separate incident a few days earlier. 

On February 11, the Cypriot authorities said that the Turkish military had obstructed a gas exploration ship contracted by Eni. The following day, the president of the European Council Donald Tusk appealed to Turkey to avoid threats against Cyprus.

Ankara has vowed to take action to prevent the exploration for hydrocarbons around Cyprus and it deployed two frigates and a submarine to monitor drilling activities in July.

“We warn those who overstep the mark in Cyprus and the Aegean,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on February 13 at a speech to MPs from his governing AKP, according to Reuters. Erdogan compared the situation in Cyprus and Aegean Sea with the situation in Afrin in the northern Syria, where Turkey launched an air and ground offensive in January,

In an interview with Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper published on February 4, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey was planning to start its own exploration work in the Eastern Mediterranean soon.