The U.S. sends warship in Crete to monitor Greece, Turkey tensions

Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams (ESB-4) leaving San Diego, Calif. US Navy Photo

A U.S. warship has arrived in the Greek Island of Crete in a bid to monitor tensions between NATO allies Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, U.S. -government-funded news outlet Voice of America (VOA) reported on Wednesday.

The USS Hershel Woody Williams joins other vessels from the European Union in the region, where Ankara and Athens are locked in a dispute over territorial waters.

Tension between NATO members Turkey and Greece has intensified in the past week after Turkey sent the Oruç Reis survey vessel, escorted by warships, to map out possible oil and gas drilling in territory over which both countries claim jurisdiction.

Turkey has said the Oruc Reis, located between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete, will continue work until Aug. 23, despite a call from the EU for Turkey to halt its activities in the contested waters.

Last week warships from both Turkey and Greece were involved in a mild collision, a move that turned European Union eyes to the region.

U.S. officials did not give any details on how long Hershel Woody Williams will remain in Crete’s Souda Bay, Voice of America said, adding however that the move came days after France last week deployed a pair of frigates to the eastern Mediterranean – a move that quickly drew Moscow’s attention.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulidis said forces from other EU states were likely to arrive in the region to join the efforts against Turkey´s growing influence in the region.

Analyst Kostas Ifandis, a professor of military studies and diplomatic relations, told Voice of America that he doubts the EU nations joining their forces in the region would be effective.

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The build up in the region is unlikely to impact Turkey, Ifandis told VoA, noting that Ankara´s biggest ally, Germany, is unlikely to join in such a manoeuvre.

But if the situation becomes dangerous, Egypt might get mobilized too, he said.

Egypt and Greece signed an agreement on August 6 designating an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean between the two countries, a move that was accepted by Ankara as illegal and violation of rights.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been trying to calm the two NATO allies in the Mediterranean waters.

Germany has been reluctant to support EU sanctions against Turkey, but has advised Ankara to pull back its survey vessel from the disputed waters.

Following a European Council video conference, Council President Charles Michel expressed EU support for Greece and Cyprus, calling for de-escalation and saying the Council was “increasingly concerned about the growing tensions.”

“We expressed our full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and recalled and reaffirmed our previous conclusions on the illegal drilling activities,” greek daily Kathimerini cited Michel as saying. The council will discuss the matter again in September, when “all options will be on the table.”

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