With some astonishment, YACHT reader and Aegean sailor Andreas S. registered what his Navtex device on board spat out for a message from the Greek stations a few weeks ago:
The Greek Navtex message
"Message to all seafarers: The Aegean has always been safe and protected. Turkey has repeatedly used the Navtex system to promote its revisionist, nationalist agenda. It relates to the status of the Aegean and the safety of seafarers. The Greek Coastguard points out such accusations and stresses that it protects the lives of seafarers in their waters and the freedom of navigation, in accordance with the guidelines of the international maritime agreements. The only officially authorized Navtex stations in the Ionian, Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean are Kerkyera, Limnos and Heraklion."
What at first seems like a bad joke for the crews, who are not familiar with the Turkish-Greek conditions, has a serious background. Since this year, the long simmering border dispute between the countries has intensified enormously. In the run-up to the constitutional referendum by President Erdogan, he had struck sharper tones. He called the Treaty of Lausanne, which was signed in 1923 and regulates the border between the two countries, "not holy" several times.
For years there have been disputes in the border area because Turkey has not joined the international agreement on the law of the sea, which should also regulate the sovereign areas in the Aegean Sea. Again and again there were arguments because Turkey claimed individual islands for itself. In 1996, the whole thing escalated to the point that warships and air forces of the Turks and Greeks operated in a confined space, which led to a helicopter crash with three deaths. A mediation by the US could ultimately defuse the conflict. Since then, more and more calm has returned over the years, the countries approached, and probably all observers assumed that the conflict would have survived.
But that doesn't seem to be the case, since the beginning of this year the conflicts have been increasing. In the spring, a Turkish warship held a live ammunition exercise in Greek waters, just outside a Greek military base. The Greek government protested vigorously against this and threatened to show strength if it were repeated. In early summer, the Greek coastguard stopped a Turkish freighter that, according to press reports, had allegedly loaded explosives. The ship was arrested in the port.
In the meantime, Turkish fighter jets repeatedly flew over Greek territory, because Turkey regards the airspace up to about the middle of the Aegean Sea as international - of course very different from the Greek side.
The climax of the clashes was another attempt by the Greek Coast Guard in July to stop a Turkish freighter about three miles from Rhodes, to escort it into a port and search it. The Coastguard reportedly had information that the ship was loading drugs. The captain refused and headed straight for the Turkish mainland. The Greek coastguard then fired warning shots. When the freighter crew did not react, the ship was shot at. The increased controls by the Greeks are part of the new EU strategy against smugglers and arms smuggling at the EU's external border.
Since then, the conflict between the two countries has also been carried out via the Navtex news: Turkey has sent reports via the Antaly stations that there are no special Navtex broadcasting areas in the Aegean that have been approved by IMO and IHO, according to which the Navtex Messages from the Greek stations "null and void". For the safety of the sea they want to send more messages. All captains were offered to call the Turkish Coastguard for help in the event of control attempts by the Greek authorities.
Since this year, a conflict between two NATO member states has escalated in a way that no one would have thought possible. The Navtex skirmish between the two sides, which some crews are watching, appears in a completely different light against this backdrop.