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Ahead of Talks, Turkey Renews Energy Exploration Hunt off Greek Islands

Αssociated Press

(Turkish Defense Ministry via AP, Pool)

ANKARA -- With another round of exploratory talks set for Athens in March, Turkey isn’t waiting to discuss whether it has rights to the seas near Greek islands, sending an energy research vessel off the islands of Limnos, Skyros and Alonnisos in the Aegean.

Despite violating at least the spirit of a 61st round of exploratory talks that began with an informal chat in Constantinople on Jan. 25, Turkish officials said sending the vessel off the islands wouldn’t upset the next discussions, said Kathimerini.

According to a Turkish navigational telex, or NAVTEX that was issued Feb. 1, the Turkish ship the Cesme will operate in the sea area around those islands until March 2, no word on whether it would be escorted by warships or face the Greek Navy.

Turkish officials said that the surveys will be conducted in international waters in the Aegean although close to Greece’s islands with Turkey disputing Greece’s sea boundaries and territorial limits.

They add that they will be restricted to the sea surface, as the vessel will not lay its cables on the seabed but still close to the Greek islands. The ship carried out hydrographic surveys in the same area in 2018 with the Greek Navy watching but not making a move to stop it, allowing the research to go on.

Analysts not identified told the paper that Turkey’s move caught Greece by surprise as it came during a period when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a bid to avoid talk of sanctions at a European Union meeting in March, wanted diplomacy.

But he has alternated that talk with belligerence and even threats of war with fears that there could be a conflict, accidental or otherwise after he had sent an energy research ship and warships off the island of Kastellorizo only to then withdraw them.