Greece Expands its Territorial Boundaries in Ionian Sea

Prime Minister Mitsotakis in an interview on Greek-Turkish maritime tensions, August 19

Published Aug 26, 2020 10:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

The government of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will be doubling the declared extent of its territorial seas claims in the Ionian Sea.

If Mitsotakis wins a parliamentary vote on Thursday, Greece will treat the waters extending from its western shores as its own out to 12 nautical miles, doubling the current national claim of six nautical miles. The 12 nautical mile limit is the UNCLOS standard for territorial seas.

“Greece is growing,” said Mitsotakis. "We are exercising our indisputable right - a right which our country reserves to exercise in the future in other sea areas."

The change applies only to Greek waters between the northern Ionian Islands and the Peloponnese, not to the Aegean, but the move comes in the context of a rapidly growing dispute over maritime boundaries with Turkey. The Turkish government has laid claim to a significant swath of Greece's continental shelf and recently deployed a seismic vessel to survey it - accompanied by a five-ship naval escort. The Greek government has dispatched its own naval assets to monitor the mission, and it has called the vessel's operations unlawful. 

Wednesday's announcement about the Ionian Sea does not affect Turkish waters, but Turkey has previously warned that if Greece were to increase its territorial seas in the Aegean - where they would overlap with Turkish claims - it would be treated as an act of war. 

"We don't have our eye on someone else's territory, sovereignty and interests, but we will make no concessions on that which is ours," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday. "We are determined to do whatever is necessary."

France, Italy, Cyprus and the UAE have all recently dispatched military assets to conduct joint training missions with the Greek armed forces in the Mediterranean, a sign of military support for Greece as tensions with Ankara rise.