The Greek Foreign Ministry said earlier this week that the Turkish research ship Piri Reis has entered an area of the Greek continental shelf in the Aegean Sea and that it will formally complain to the Turkish government. Greece claims that Turkey should have informed Athens about the ship, saying even though the area is outside Greek territorial waters, it has rights to potential undersea mineral and fossil deposits.
But, in a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry countered this claim, saying academic naval research can be carried out freely in the international waters of the Aegean without coastal states having to request permission from each other.
Turkey added that continental shelf boundaries in the Aegean have not yet been determined and that a moratorium on exploration for oil and gas outside of territorial waters -- imposed by a 1976 deal -- is still in place. But academic research not covered in the 1976 deal may be carried out freely, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry statement.
The ministry also said the Piri Reis is conducting biological and oceanographic research that has nothing to do with gas or oil exploration. The Turkish university that is in charge of the study is also willing to carry out similar academic projects in cooperation with Greek counterparts, the ministry said, adding that the Turkish government supports this “positive and constructive approach.”
Delineation of the continental shelf is an issue of dispute between Aegean neighbors Turkey and Greece. Turkey says the distance should be measured from the mainland when determining the boundaries of Turkey and Greece's continental shelves, while Greece insists all Greek islands in the Aegean must be taken into account. Turkey says this means Greece would gain rights to exploit economic resources in almost the entire Aegean.
“Turkey does not accept the view that the entire Aegean is part of the Greek continental shelf. Neither does this claim does not comply with international law,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Turkish and Greek diplomats have held dozens of closed-door meetings in an effort to resolve the territorial disputes in the Aegean, but no progress has been reported to date.