ATHENS - After planning to double its territorial limit from six to 12 miles in the Ionian off the west coast, Greece now is moving ahead to do the same off Crete, where Turkey said it would drill for oil and gas.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias presented the plan in Parliament Jan. 19 during a debate on a bill delimitating the maritime borders between Greece and Italy in the Ionian as both countries had agreed.
“The Prime Minister commented months ago about the expansion of territorial waters in Crete. And of course Crete includes the eastern part,” he told lawmakers about the move, said Kathimerini.
“This draft law has the unanimous support of the political forces of the national Parliament, so I believe that the moment has a historic aspect and I would like to thank the political parties for their cooperation,” he added.
The debate will last two days on the draft legislation that will extend Greece's coastal zone to 12 nautical miles in the sea area of the Ionian Sea and the Ionian Islands to Cape Tainaro in the Peloponnese.
The extension of the coastal zone is based on Article 27 of the Constitution, as it concerns a change in the borders of the State, for which a law is required that is passed by an absolute majority of all the parliamentary deputies, the paper said.
That could draw further fire from Turkey which plans to hunt for energy in and around Greek waters under a maritime deal with Libya that no other country recognizes, Greece countering with a similar agreement with Egypt.
Drawing a neutral diplomatic line to back both countries, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Greece has the right to extend its territorial waters from six to 12 miles, but Turkey has a right to complain and that it should be solved by talking.
He said in such cases of overlapping interests that a solution must be found through dialogue at the same time Turkey has claimed waters in and around Greek islands where it plans to drill for oil and gas, disputing Greece's boundaries.
REACHING THE LIMIT
“It follows from the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea that each state has the right to determine the extent of its territorial waters up to 12 miles. When Greece announced that it was expanding the coastal zone, we said exactly this: it is a completely legal decision,” Lavrov was quoted as saying in translated comments from Russian news agency TASS during a news conference.
He didn't mention that Turkey doesn't recognize that law as Greek officials prepare to go to Constantinople on Jan. 25 for the resumption of exploratory talks for the 61st time, the first in four years.
Lavrov said that, “It is different when the territorial waters defined by a state are against the interests of a neighboring state," he continued.
“If these interests are legitimate under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, solutions must be sought through dialogue and balance of interests,” he added, urging negotiations by Turkey with Greece at the same time Turkey continues to drill for oil and gas in Cypriot waters, ignoring soft European Union sanctions.
In November, Greece's plan to extend its territorial limit from six to 12 miles offshore would start in the Ionian off the west coast, not in the Aegean or East Mediterranean where Turkey is claiming waters.
A decree signed by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou approving the extension was sent to the country's highest administrative court, the Council of State for a legal check before coming into force, said Kathimerini.
That came following a visit by Dendias to Albania, the two countries agreeing their dispute over their maritime borders in the Ionian Sea could be settled by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Greece wants to push its sea limits north of the island of Corfu, which had been disputed by Albania but the two sides said they wanted a diplomatic solution, unlike with Turkey which has sent an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo within sight of Turkey's coast.
The agreement with Albania to let The Hague decide likely won't be taken up until after parliamentary elections in Albania in April but there's a problem in that Albanian President Ilir Meta must also approve as the signature of Prime Minister Edi Rama isn't enough under that country's laws.
Greece has indicated it could move to expand its seas limits in the Aegean and East Mediterranean as well which Turkey said could be a cause for war, with tension rising over Turkey's energy hunt plans that could be expanded off Rhodes and Crete as well.