With Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warning there could be an accidental conflict after Turkey sent an energy vessel and warships near the island of Kastellorizo, two warships from the countries ran into each other.
The Turkish frigate, the Kemal Reis, was damaged after the ship's captain mistakenly was off course and hit the Greek ship the Limnos, said Kathimerini, but there was no military response from either side.
The Limnos was taking part in a naval exercise with French ships who have come to the East Mediterranean to support Greece against growing Turkish provocations after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent the energy research vessel Oruc Reis to explore for oil and gas, protected by warships
Still, it ratcheted up worries of an escalation that could lead to shooting and engulf the region with the United Nations and European Union standing on the sidelines, NATO – the defense alliance to which both countries belong – refusing to intervene, and the United States giving Greece verbal support while the American State Department said the waters are “disputed,” favoring Turkey.
Turkey made a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them, leading to Erdogan saying waters off some Greek islands belong to Turkey, spiking tension.
He had sent the ships off Kastellorizo and headed toward Kos and Rhodes earlier before German Chancellor Angela Merkel convinced him to pull back but he sent them back in after Greece made a deal with Egypt setting Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the seas.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the incident will be discussed at meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council called by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as the bloc is reluctant to take on Erdogan, fearful he will send more refugees and migrants into Europe through Greek islands.
Mitsotakis had called for tough sanctions on Erdogan but was ignored and the foreign ministers don't have the authority to bring them which means the meeting will be more talk and no action although another meeting has been set for Aug. 27-28 where sanctions could be raised unless a conflict happens before.
Dendias said he will inform his European counterparts about “real events” and “operational incidents” of recent days and the newspaper said he will show some photographic evidence.
Erdogdan gave a different version of what happened, saying the Oruc Reis was attacked by the Greek Navy and Turkey responded but gave no proof and there were no reports in any media that's what happened.
“We said do not attack Oruc Reis otherwise you will pay a heavy price. And they got the first answer,” he claimed, which apparently was his word that there was an attack although there wasn't.
Greek diplomatic sources not identified by the newspaper said that Erdogan's claims were just bluster to pump himself up to a domestic hard core audience gleeful he had tweaked Greece's nose by converting the ancient Aghia Sophia church in Constantinople into a mosque.
Backdoor diplomacy was reportedly frantic with Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel – representing the other 26 heads of state of EU members – talking with Mitsotakis and Erdogan.
Mitsotakis is trying to build an international alliance against Turkey to stave off a conflict and keep Turkish ships out of Greek seas but Erdogan has the ear of US President Donald Trump who is said to do him frequent favors.
Mitsotakis contacted both French President Emmanuel Macron and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, two allies, the paper said, with the French leader offering to boost its military presence in the East Mediterranean.
That includes off Cyprus where the French energy company Total is licensed to drill for oil and gas, near where Turkey is doing so unlawfully as well, the EU issuing only soft sanctions that didn't work.
Macron called on Turkey to halt “unilateral” exploration activities and negotiate with Greece as was set to be done before Erdogan canceled talks after the Greece-Egypt deal that infuriated him.
Two French fighter jets and a naval frigate conducted joint military exercises with Greece off the island of Crete, where the US Navy has a base on Souda Bay after Erdogan said Turkish drilling would take place there too.
Dendias will be in Vienna on Aug. 14 is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the US playing both sides against the middle.