Greek, Turkish warships in 'mini collision' Ankara calls provocative

The Turkish Navy frigate Kemal Reis is pictured in the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul, in May 2019, PHOTO: REUTERS

ATHENS/ANKARA (REUTERS) - A Greek and a Turkish warship were involved in a mild collision on Wednesday (Aug 12) during a standoff in the eastern Mediterranean, in what a Greek defence source called an accident but Ankara described as a provocation.

Tensions between the Nato allies have risen this week after Turkey sent a survey vessel to the region, escorted by warships, to map out sea territory for possible oil and gas drilling in an area where Turkey and Greece both claim jurisdiction.

The Turkish Oruc Reis survey ship has been moving between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete, shadowed by a number of Greek frigates. On Wednesday one of them, the Limnos, was approaching the survey vessel when it came into the path of one of its Turkish naval escorts, the Kemal Reis.

The Greek frigate manoeuvred to avoid a head-on collision and in the process its bow touched the rear of the Turkish frigate, the defence source said, calling it a "mini collision."

"It was an accident," the source said, adding the Limnos was not damaged. It subsequently took part in a joint military exercise with France off Crete on Thursday morning, the person said.

In Switzerland on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Athens needs to act with reason and called on the European Union to stop "pampering" Greece ahead of an EU foreign ministers meeting to discuss the issue later on Friday.

Greece "should not attempt to provoke Oruc Reis like it did two days ago or it will receive a response," he said, adding the European Union should not give it "unconditional support."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the naval Kemal Reis had fended off an attack by Greek vessels and also warned of retaliation.

Relations between Greece and Turkey have long been fraught with tension. Disputes have ranged from boundaries of offshore continental shelves and airspace to the ethnically split island of Cyprus. In 1996 they almost went to war over ownership of uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea.

In a call with Mr Erdogan on Thursday, European Council President Charles Michel recalled the EU's full solidarity with Greece, an EU official said. Mr Michel called for de-escalation of tensions, said provocations should be avoided and added that dialogue is preferred, the official added.

Mr Cavusoglu said Switzerland had offered to mediate the dispute between Turkey and Greece and that Ankara had agreed to this in principle.

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