President Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece on Friday that Turkey will retaliate against any attack on its survey vessel Oruc Reis in the eastern Mediterranean in an escalating row between the NATO allies over gas and oil exploration in the region.
Turkey and Greece are vehemently at odds over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the region, and tensions rose after Ankara launched exploration operations in a disputed area of the Mediterranean on Monday. On Thursday, Erdogan warned of a “high price” if Oruc Reis was attacked and suggested Turkey had already acted on that warning.
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.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday 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, according to defence sources.
A Greek and a Turkish warship were involved in a mini-collision on Wednesday during a standoff in the eastern Mediterranean, a Greek defence 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 defence 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.
There was no immediate comment on the incident from the Turkish ministry of defence.
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.
“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.
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey will not back down to threats of sanctions nor to incursions on its claimed territory in the Mediterranean Sea, where it is in a standoff with Greece.
“We will never bow to banditry on our continental shelf. We will not back down against the language of sanctions and threats,” Erdogan said. The Turkish Oruc Reis survey ship will continue energy exploration until Aug. 23, he added.