Warning shots fired in the Aegean Sea

Thanos Davelis, Director of Public Affairs, HALC

Today the Greek coast guard fired warning shots at a Turkish cargo ship in the Aegean Sea near the island of Rhodes.

The Turkish ship was sailing in Greek waters — three nautical miles off the coast of Rhodes — when the Greek Coast Guard contacted it to dock for inspection after receiving notice that the ship was suspected of carrying illegal narcotics. The Turkish captain refused to respond or cooperate with orders from the Greek coast guard. According to the official statement of the Greek Coast Guard, this is when the coast guard fired warning shots at the Turkish vessel. Instead of slowing down, the captain of the cargo ship accelerated the ship’s speed, sailing into Turkish waters.

Greek sources are reiterating that the action was part of a crackdown on illicit smuggling, and the Greek coast guard has informed Turkey about the incident.

Turkish pro-government news outlets, however, are describing the incident as a Greek provocation and are dangerously drumming up nationalist sentiment. Turkish channel Kanal 24 is running headlines that accuse Greece of firing on a Turkish ship, and writing that “Greece will pay.” These same Turkish sources are also attempting to link it to the ongoing Conference on Cyprus.

The captain’s refusal to cooperate with Greek authorities — while in Greek waters — is indicative of Ankara’s attitude toward Greece and international law.

Ankara — in complete disregard of international law — challenges Greek sovereignty in the Aegean and engages in a number of violations of Greece’s airspace and maritime borders. Many times, these challenges take the form of armed overflights over inhabited islands and military exercises in Greek waters with live ammunition.

For years Greece has shown incredible restraint when confronting Turkish jets and vessels in its airspace and waters avoiding any escalations. The coast guard’s warning shot today is a small check on Ankara’s aggressive behavior in the region, reaffirming Greece’s sovereignty. The only question is: What took so long?