The Breadth of Territorial Waters

The Aegean is a semi-enclosed Sea located in between the Turkish and Greek mainlands and is dotted by thousands of islands, islets and rocks. Both Türkiye and Greece presently exercise a 6 nautical miles breadth of territorial waters in the Aegean which enables almost half of this Sea and the airspace above it, being freely used as high seas and international airspace by both Türkiye and Greece as well as third countries.

6 miles breadth of territorial waters is therefore directly related to the preservation of vital and legitimate interests of Türkiye and Greece in the Aegean and as such constitutes the core of the settlement to every Aegean problem.

Under the present 6 mile breadth of territorial waters, about half of the Aegean is high seas. The extension by Greece of her territorial waters beyond the present 6 miles in the Aegean, will have most inequitable implications and would constitute an abuse of right for the following reasons:

a) Such an action will turn the Aegean into a Greek Sea to the detriment of Türkiye's vital and legitimate interests:

In case of an extension, in practical terms Türkiye will be locked out of the Aegean and confined to its own territorial waters.

Following an extension, neither Türkiye nor any other state will be able to benefit from a diminished proportion of high seas in the Aegean for economic, military, navigational and other purposes.

b) Türkiye's access to the high seas will be blocked and its Aegean coast will be encircled by Greek territorial waters:

Should the territorial sea be increased for instance to 12 miles Türkiye's 2820 km long coastline to the high seas will be encircled by Greek territorial waters. Türkiye's access from its west shores to the international waters of the Aegean and similarly from the Aegean to the Mediterranean will almost be curtailed.

c) Türkiye's military, economic and scientific interests will be seriously jeopardized:
As a result of the constriction of the high seas, Türkiye will not be able to carry out any military training and exercises in the Aegean. It will lose the capability and flexibility to organize the defense of her shores as there will be practically no international maritime areas and airspace left. Turkish Naval units will have to cross Greek territorial waters to enter the Aegean and to pass from the Aegean to the Mediterranean. The Aegean will be closed to military aircraft as well. Aegean bound flights will not be possible and Mediterranean flights will be subject to Greek permission.

Furthermore, Türkiye will not be able to engage in activities such as scientific research, fishing, sponge-diving in the Aegean beyond its territorial sea without Greek approval.

d) Greece will gain unjustified advantage in delimitation of other maritime jurisdiction areas.

Since the issue of territorial waters is very much interrelated with other Aegean disputes such as the delimitation of the continental shelf, exclusive economic zone, air space related problems, etc., expansion of Greek territorial waters in the Aegean will have a direct impact on the settlement of these issues.

The consequences of any extension of the Greek territorial waters in essence, are not limited to the internationally recognized navigational rights and freedoms as presented by Greece but extend far beyond that.

In view of the above, any extension of the territorial sea beyond 6 miles in the Aegean by Greece is not acceptable to Türkiye. Contrary to what is being alleged by Greece, such a unilateral extension of territorial sea will also be against the provisions of the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea for the following reasons. It should also be borne in mind that no maritime boundaries exist between the two countries.

The 12 mile limit envisaged in Article 3 of this Convention is neither compulsory nor a limit to be applied automatically. It is the maximum breadth that may be applied if conditions allow.

Article 3 should only be applicable together with article 300 of the said Convention which reads as follows:

"States, Parties......shall exercise the rights, jurisdiction and freedoms recognized in this Convention in a manner which would not constitute an abuse of right"

Article 300 therefore poses a clear limitation for states in exercising the rights derived from the Convention.

The extension of the territorial sea by Greece beyond 6 miles, in total disregard of the special characteristics of the Aegean and of the inherent historical rights that each of the coastal states has on it and in a manner to deprive Türkiye of its legitimate rights would clearly and unequivocally constitute an abuse of right.

At the same time, article 15 of the Convention also brings obligation for states to take into consideration the historic title and the special circumstances as far as the delimitation of territorial waters is concerned.

Türkiye, therefore, has long been advocating that any acquisition of new maritime areas in the Aegean (territorial waters, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, fisheries zone etc.) should be fair, equitable and based on the mutual consent of both Türkiye and Greece.

Therefore, any unilateral action aiming at enlarging maritime jurisdiction areas in the Aegean should not be allowed for the aforementioned reasons. In fact, both Türkiye and Greece have committed themselves to refrain from unilateral acts in the Aegean by the Madrid Declaration of 1997. It is worth mentioning that the Madrid Declaration is a guiding document for Türkiye and Greece which should be respected unreservedly by both countries. The Declaration contains a commitment to refrain from unilateral acts which is directly related to the preservation of the 6 miles territorial waters. It is not by coincidence that the first principle of the Madrid Declaration underlines that both sides will refrain from unilateral acts since the opposite will upset the balance established by the Lausanne Treaty of 1923.

Adherence to the principles included in the Madrid Declaration of 8 July 1997 and particularly to the commitment to the present breadth of territorial waters which constitutes the core of all Aegean problems will no doubt have a positive impact on the settlement of these problems.