ATHENS — Lawmakers in Greece Wednesday overwhelmingly approved legislation to extend the country's territorial waters along its western coastline from six to 12 nautical miles.
In the 284-0 vote, representatives of four opposition parties backed the center-right government, while members of the Greek Communist Party abstained.
More specifically, the bill received 284 votes of approval, favored by ruling party New Democracy, main opposition party SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance, Movement For Change (KINAL), Greek Solution and MeRA25. The Greek Communist Party declared itself 'present' in the proceedings, which does not count as a vote of rejection.
The full title of the bill is "Determination of the extent of the coastal zone in the Ionian Sea region and the Ionian Islands up to Cape Tainaro in the Peloponnese."
Greece decided to exercise its right to extend its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea, as provided for by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, said government sources; the agreement is also known as the Montego Bay agreement, as it was signed there in 1982.
Although the move does not directly affect an ongoing maritime boundary dispute with Turkey to the east, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament that Greece was adopting a more assertive foreign policy.
"It's a clear message to those who are trying to deprive our country of this right," Mitsotakis said.
Greece's western coastline faces Italy and borders Albania at its northern tip. But the expansion is aimed at underscoring the country's right to implement the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which set the 12-mile limit in 1982.
Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias praised the significance of the Wednesday evening plenary approval of the ministry's bill for extending Greece's territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in the Ionian Sea.
On Twitter, Dendias wrote in English: "A historical moment for our country. Following the adoption, with a substantial majority of votes in favor, of the draft law regarding the extension of Greece's territorial waters in the Ionian islands, and the Ionian Sea up to Cape Tainaron, Greece is expanding."
In a second tweet, the minister clarified that the bill is: "In line with International Law and in particular the International Law of the Sea, which constitutes part of the European acquis, we reserve our inherent right to expand the territorial waters in the other regions of the country as well."
Greece and Turkey, neighbors and NATO allies, are at odds over sea boundaries and mineral rights in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean in a dispute that caused a tense military standoff last year.
Under pressure from western allies, Turkey and Greece will resume talks aimed at reducing tensions on Jan. 25, restarting a process that was suspended five years ago.
Turkey says an extension of Greece's territorial waters eastward would be considered an act of war, arguing that Greek islands would effectively block its access to the Aegean. The longstanding dispute between the two countries has been fueled by the discovery of large offshore gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years.
Ankara noted that the legislation passed Wednesday does not affect the Aegean, but warned that there was no change to its position regarding the extension of territorial waters there.
"Our country has vital rights and interests in the semi-enclosed Aegean Sea, which is dominated by special geographical conditions," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a written statement.
"Our position that the territorial waters of this sea cannot be expanded unilaterally in a way that restricts the freedom of navigation and access to the open seas of our country and of third countries, is known to all," he added. "There is no change to our position."
Greece has signed recent agreements with Italy and Egypt for the delineation of maritime exploration rights and is in talks with Albania to take a maritime boundary dispute to an international court.