Turkish seismic survey ship nears Greek island of Kastellorizo - report

(Updates with Greek and Turkish navigation warnings)

Turkey’s seismic survey ship, the Oruç Reis, is nearing the Greek island of Kastellorizo, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported, in a move that threatens to escalate political and military tensions with Greece.

The vessel was spotted 33 kilometres from Kastellorizo earlier this morning and was expected to be 22 kilometres from the island at around noon local time, should it continue course at its recorded speed, Kathimerini said. Its transponder was switched off, it said.

The Oruç Reis was last detected more than 50 kilometres from Kastellorizo, which is located just a few kilometres from Turkey’s southern coast, during the early hours of Tuesday, according to marinetraffic.com. But its supply ships, the Cengiz Han and Ataman, which had their transmitters switched on, were located much closer to the island as of mid-morning.

Later on Tuesday, the Greek General Staff published photos showing a strong presence of Greek ships the same morning in the vicinity of the Kastellorizo island complex.

"More proof that the armed forces are fully prepared but also fully determined to carry out their mission successfully, defending our sovereign interests," Greek newspaper Kathimerini cited the Hellenic National Defence General Staff (GEETHA) as saying in a statement.

Political and military tensions between Greece and Turkey intensified last week in a three-month dispute over territory after Turkey sent Oruç Reis back into Greek-claimed waters between Cyprus and Crete, sparking calls from Athens for European Union sanctions. Turkey had withdrawn the vessel as the two countries agreed to exploratory talks to resolve the standoff in late September.

A navigational telex (NAVTEX) by Turkey announcing the Oruç Reis’ latest mission into the disputed waters expires on Thursday.

On Monday, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez told the local NTV television that the Oruç Reis was making 2D seismic surveys and estimated that it would complete its work in two months, according to Kathimerini.

“We started from our southern border, now we are working further north near Anatolia, closer to the mainland and so far, there has been no negative event,” Dönmez said. Turkey plans to drill in the area should the surveying prove fruitful, he said.

On Tuesday, Greece issued three NAVTEX messages, announcing aeronautical firing exercises in the vicinity of Agios Eystratios and Limnos islands, to which Turkey responded with two of its own.

In response, NAVTEX messages broadcast from the Turkish navy's Izmir station said the Greek broadcasts were in “violation of demilitarized status of (Semothrace, Limnos and Ag. Eystratios islands) set by the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty.”