Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was kept minutely briefed on the movements of a Turkish research vessel that entered the area of Greece’s continental shelf last week, Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Skai TV on Sunday.
“We monitored it from the very first hour. Such situations are an exercise in composure because the decisions you have to take must be considered very carefully,” he said, adding that he kept the prime minister informed of the research vessel’s movements and position via a series of telephone calls.
“Our response had to be immediate because… we knew that our reflexes were being tested,” Panagiotopoulos told the broadcaster, adding that the Defense Ministry was alerted to the Oruc Reis’ presence in the area of Greece’s continental shelf late last Thursday night.
“The frigate Nikiforos Fokas was in the area the next morning. The Greek frigate constantly updated the operations center with live images from the area where the Oruc Reis was sailing, while an Air Force F-16 was monitoring it from above,” Panagiotopoulos told Skai.
“For the Nikiforos Fokas to be in the area, 200 miles south of Kastellorizo, sailing at a speed of 25-30 nautical miles, it could not have set off from Salamina, because it wouldn’t have made it on time,” Panagiotopoulos stressed, referring to the Hellenic Navy base near the Greek capital. “It set out from Karpathos. And why was it in Karpathos? Because we had made sure it was there, waiting and ready to respond.”
The Greek defense minister said that while the Oruc Reis most likely sailed into the area of Greece’s continental shelf in order to avoid bad weather off the coast of Cyprus before sailing off again on Saturday, he is not ruling out the possibility of a deliberate action to test Athens’ reflexes.
“It probably drifted and had no other choice but to go against the weather,” he said, adding that Greece’s response had to nevertheless me immediate.
“The situation is difficult, but we will do… whatever it takes to defend our sovereign rights,” Panagiotopoulos told Skai in reference to the recent spike in tension with Turkey in the East Mediterranean and the Aegean.
He also referred to the presence of French military ships in the East Mediterranean as “tangible proof” of Greek-French cooperation.