Tensions are once again high in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, two NATO member countries. The latest incident on Saturday occurred around the old Ropax Anatolian.
According to the command of the Turkish coast guard, two Greek patrol boats fired Saturday on this old ship 93 meters long, by 20 wide, built in 1994, and flying the flag of Comoros. The incident happened eleven miles from the Turkish island of Bozcaada in the Aegean Sea, in international waters. There were no injuries among the crew of 18 (six Egyptians, four Somalis, five Azerbaijanis and three Turks). Two Turkish Coast Guard boats were sent to the scene and the Greek ships left the area. Turkey protested, demanded explanations and demanded an investigation. Video released by the Turkish Coast Guard shows a Greek Coast Guard patrol boat and what appears to be a bullet hole in a ship’s window and ceiling. We also hear gunshots.
For its part, the Greek coastguard said that a patrol boat had detected in the Aegean Sea the ro-ro northwest of Lesvos, “moving suspiciously in national territorial waters, towards the north of the island”. The captain of the Anatolian reportedly refused to change course to comply with an inspection, traveling parallel to the Turkish coast. A chase ensued and “warning shots were fired in a safe area, but the aforementioned vessel did not stop, entering Turkish territorial waters and heading towards the Turkish coast”.
The Anatolian is the ex-Mavi Marmara who sailed to Gaza in the Freedom Flotilla in 2010 to try to break the blockade. It had been stormed by an IDF commando. Nine Turkish activists lost their lives and Israeli soldiers were injured.
More recently, on August 13, 2021, he reported being attacked by a speedboat with 4 or 5 people on board, off Somalia. The assailants had fired shots and even RPGs. A private security team was on board the ro-ro and exchanges of fire reportedly lasted nearly two hours. Finally, the ship was able to continue its journey and deliver military equipment to Mogadishu the next day. A United Nations group of experts on Somalia, however, requested clarification from the company operating the ship (Mavi Deniz Tasimaciligi, located in Istanbul). The AIS indicated that the ship remained almost stationary for 24 hours on August 12, off a part of the coast controlled by Al-Shabaab.
More recently, in July, the Anatolian was towed by the Spanish frigate Numancia as it had been drifting off Somalia, machinery down, for 10 days. He had been taken to the port of Bosaso (Somalia, Gulf of Aden).
Greek-Turkish relations are at their lowest, after an upturn following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In June, President Erdogan announced that he no longer wanted to meet with Greek leaders after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsorakis spoke out in covert criticism of Turkey before the US Congress. An intervention perceived by Ankara as a maneuver to dissuade the United States from delivering F-16s to them. Turkey also criticizes Athens for arming the Aegean islands near its coasts and for having recently “locked” some of its F-16 aircraft with its S-300 air defense system while carrying out a mission. reconnaissance in western Rhodes.