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Greece to Extend Territorial Waters in West and South of Crete, Says Report

Greece terriotial waters
Greece is set to extend its territorial waters around Crete, a report says. Credit: Hellenic Navy

Greece will extend its territorial waters from the current six to twelve miles west and south of Crete, according to a Greek media report.

The newspaper Ta Nea says that Athens is preparing the extension that will be announced sometime in March.

According to the report that is based on unnamed sources of the defense ministry, the relevant law is being worked on after instructions from the PM’s office.

The government made the decision based on favorable international and regional developments, Ta Nea says.

According to the newspaper, a unilateral decision by Egypt on Dec.11 to demarcate its western maritime borders with neighboring Libya and exploration work by U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil off Crete also prompted the move.

In 2021, Greece reaffirmed its intention to extend the country’s territorial waters to twelve nautical miles around Crete.

Speaking in Parliament, PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said at the time, “Greece can obviously also exercise this right around Crete but at a time, in a manner and under the conditions of its own choosing.”

He was speaking following the deal that delimitated the maritime borders between Greece and Italy that extended Greece’s coastal zone (territorial waters) to twelve nautical miles in the Ionian Sea and the Ionian Islands to Cape Tainaro in the Peloponnese.

Mitsotakis said at the time that the country was expanding its sovereign territory “neither by annexing (foreign) territory, nor at the expense of other states, but by following procedures that are based on international law.”

Extension of Greece’s territorial waters does not include the Aegean

Greece territorial waters
What the Aegean would look like if Greece extended its territorial waters to twelve nautical miles. Public Domain

However, the possible extension of Greece’s territorial waters does not include the Aegean.

Greece is firm in its position to extend its territorial waters to twelve nautical miles in the Aegean as is clearly indicated by international law and specifically by the UN’s Treaty on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Despite Turkey’s threats that the extension of Greek territorial waters is a cause for war, Athens has not moved from its longstanding position that the expansion of territorial waters to twelve nautical miles is an inalienable sovereign right.

Greece has refrained from doing so, insisting that it will choose the time when appropriate. Turkey has countered such a move with threats and says that, in effect, this would turn the Aegean into a Greek lake and so is a casus belli, a cause for war.

“I hope they won’t make a mistake and think of extending the territorial waters to twelve miles,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said earlier in 2022. “This is a wrong calculation.”

“They should not try to test us,” Akar added, stressing that Greece should best make do with its existing six miles of territorial waters.

Greece, territorial waters, and the Law of the Sea

Territorial waters are an extension to the sea of the national sovereignty of a country beyond its shores. They are considered to be part of the country’s national territory.

They give the littoral state full control over air navigation in the airspace above and partial control over shipping—although foreign ships, both civil and military, are normally guaranteed innocent passage through territorial waters.

Greece has a legal right to extend its territorial sea to twelve nautical miles, as provided for by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Virtually all coastal states abide by the Law of the Sea. Since 1964, Turkey has expanded its territorial waters in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to twelve nautical miles.

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