ATHENS — After Turkey signed a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them, Greece and Italy signed an agreement marking the sea boundaries in the Ionian and the far south Adriatic in waters between them.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, upset Greece put strict COVID-19 health test measures on Italian tourists with a lockdown lifting, came to Athens to meet Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and sign the deal, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki.
That was seen as a counter to the Turkey-Libya deal that isn't recognized by any other countries although Turkey sent a map to the United Nations seeking ratification under the Law of the Sea that Turkey otherwise doesn't recognize.
The UN and Turkey recognize the Fayez al-Sarraj Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli which holds only a small part of Libya while Greece backs the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey has sent aid, including military equipment and, Turkish intelligence agents and mercenaries to prop up al-Sarraj and protect the maritime deal that also claimed waters off Greek islands, including Crete and Rhodes.
Greece is reportedly in talks with Egypt to also designate an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between them in the east to southeast Mediterranean, a development that would clash with the map drawn by Turkey and Libya.
The agreement is an extension of a 1977 accord and paves the way for Greece and Italy to explore for and exploit marine resources and reach a similar deal with Albania, said the newspaper Kathimerini.
In a regular press briefing, New Democracy government spokesman Stelios Petsas hailed the agreement as “a development of historical significance.”
Dendias and Di Maio had met in Rome in February to discuss further cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector in the eastern Mediterranean, where Greece and Italy are partners on the EastMed gas pipeline project.
In joint statements with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio after the signature of an agreement on Tuesday between Greece and Italy for the delimitation of the two countries' maritime zones, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said it was a "historic moment" and an agreement that established the rights of islands to maritime zones, as well as securing their respective fishing rights.
"Our country's steadfast goal is still to delimitate the maritime zones with all our neighbours, in the framework of international law," Dendias said, stressing that the boundaries of maritime zones cannot be delineated selectively and arbitrarily as "some attempt to use the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)". He also highlighted, once again, that the Turkey-Sarraj agreement was invalid.
"Relations with Italy are at a very good level, a fact that is sealed with the signature today of the agreement to delimitate the maritime zones between the two sides. An agreement that confirms the right of islands to maritime zones, and the mid-line of the 1977 agreement for delimitating the Greece-Italy continental shelf," Dendias said.
He also pointed to the protection of fishing rights under the deal, thanking Rural Development Minister Makis Voridis for his cooperation in the relevant negotiations.
During a meeting with Di Maio at the Greek foreign ministry, Dendias also spoke about the escalation of illegal actions on Turkey's part, such as the recent publication of a Turkish oil company's applications to drill for oil and gas within the Greek continental shelf and the region generally. "These actions, combined with an aggressive rhetoric, amply demonstrate Turkey's destabilising role," Dendias said.
"International law determines the red lines and these must be respected," he added.
Regarding Libya, the two sides called for a political solution via the UN and the Berlin Process, while Greece hailed the new Egyptian initiative. They also discussed the European prospects of the Western Balkans, which both countries support on provision that conditionalities are met.
Dendias and Di Maio spoke about the pandemic and the return to normality, with the Italian minister briefing Dendias on the epidemiological situation in Italy.
"Greece is lifting the restrictions starting from next Monday and up to the end of the month. Greece expects our Italian friends to spend their holidays in our countries this year, as in the previous years," Dendias said.
The agreement signed with Italy is the first agreement that Greece has signed regarding its Exclusive Economic Zone and was drawn up on the basis of UNCLOS.
It confirms the right of islands to a maritime zone, the 1977 mid-line for the Greek-Italian continental shelf as the boundary of the Greece-Italy EEZs and, with Tuesday's agreement, for the waters above the continental shelf.
Also signed on Tuesday was a Greece-Italy Statement on Resources in the Mediterranean, in which the two countries pledge their dedication to a balanced and sustainable management of these resources and agree to consultations to determine any repercussion of various factors to existing fishing practices of the two states.
Lastly, they signed a joint notification to the European Commission with which the two countries ask for the future modification of the directives on common fisheries policy so that, when Greece decides to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles, existing fishing activities by Italian fishers in the region between 6-12 nautical miles, which are currently classed as international waters, can continue.
The existing rights of Italian fishing boats are described clearly and restrictively, both as regards the number of ships and the kinds of fish that can be harvested, exempting species that Greek fishing craft fish for.