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Turkey and Greece dispute territorial waters

15 March 2013

Tensions between Turkey and Greek are on the increase as their dispute over territorial waters in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean escalates.

Although there has been political rapprochement between the two countries over the past 20 years, there has been no agreement about their Economic Exclusion Zones (EEZ).*

The disputed area in the east Mediterranean is believed to have hydrocarbon reserves worth 130 billion Euros, yielding enough profit to significantly decrease Greece’s national debt, said a Wall Street Journal article earlier this month. Turkey is also keen to carry out exploration in the contended region and claims that its state-owned oil company TPAO has legal authorisation to proceed.

In a statement issued this week, the Greek Foreign Ministry said that Turkey’s claims are in violation of Article 121 of the UN Law of the Sea Convention, which supports the Greek position that islands are taken into consideration in the delimitation of sea borders. Turkey, on the other hand, insists the continental mainland, not the islands off the Turkish coasts, should be taken into consideration while determining the boundaries in the Aegean because otherwise the Aegean Sea could turn into a Greek lake where Turkey has no territorial rights.

Turkey is not a signatory to the Law of the Sea Convention, implying then, that it is not bound by its laws. The Greek Foreign Ministry asserts that even though Turkey has not signed the agreement, 164 countries have done so and that fact ratifies the agreement and makes it legally binding to all states.

By rejecting the Greek islands’ right to delineate their continental shelf and the EEZ, Turkey is violating Article 121 of the Law of the Sea Convention, which has customary law status and is thus binding on all nations,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said in its statement. It also vowed to defend its rights stemming from international law.

The two countries have also taken their dispute to the UN recently. On Feb. 20, Greece sent a diplomatic note to the UN outlining its objection to Turkey’s licensing the TPAO for hydrocarbon exploration in the east Mediterranean, saying the area where TPAO exploration is set to take place overlaps with Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf. Turkey denied the Greek claims in a subsequent note to the UN and said the licenses granted to TPAO since 2007 are confined to the areas that are within the Turkish EEZ and continental shelf.

Turkey was visited by the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, accompanied with several ministers from his cabinet, this month. Despite the territorial disputes over the Aegean, the visit ended with promises to increase trade and work together to resolve the Cyprus problem.

The maps shows Turkish territorial waters in red and Greek territorial waters in blue*

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