Sunday, November 16, 2008

Greece & Turkey Standoff Over Survey Ship Ends

A standoff between a Greek and a Turkish navy ship in the Aegean over a Turkish-sponsored oil prospecting survey ended yesterday after the operation was called off, Greek officials said. A Norwegian survey ship commissioned by the Turkish government to conduct the search was departing after Greek officials complained to Norwegian and Turkish authorities, the Greek foreign ministry said. “Under the international convention on the law of the sea, a large part of this area includes a continental shelf (seabed) belonging to Greece,” foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said. The Norwegian ship, the Malene Ostervold, on Friday began prospecting for oil in the southeastern Aegean near the Greek island of Kastellorizo, escorted by the Turkish frigate Gediz, Koumoutsakos said. A standoff ensued when a Greek gunboat was dispatched in the area to impress “that this sort of research requires permission from Greek authorities,” the Greek general staff said.
The Malene Ostervold
The Malene Ostervold departed shortly after midnight after the Norwegian ambassador had been summoned by the Greek foreign ministry, but returned early on Saturday morning, the general staff said. The incident ended after Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis called her Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Store, Koumoutsakos said. Oil prospecting and quake research in the Aegean, a highly seismic sea believed to hold oil reserves, has been a habitual cause of tension between Greece and Turkey for the past two decades and nearly led to war in 1987. Greece has many islands a short distance from the Turkish coast. On the basis of post-World War II treaties, it claims waters which Turkey insists are neutral. Turkey also questions Greek claims to airspace around these islands. Greek warplanes are routinely sent to intercept Turkish fighter aircraft whenever they enter these zones, leading to the occasional mock dogfight. But relations between the neighbours have markedly improved in recent years. Greece is supporting Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, a number of confidence-building measures have been enacted, and high-level military delegation visits - once unthinkable - are now exchanged on a regular basis.

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