Turkish authorities banned all commercial Turkish-flagged yachts and touristic vessels from sailing to Greek islands from ports on Turkey ‘s coast.
According to Turkish media, the Transport Ministry issued a ban on Turkish-flagged commercial yachts and regular passenger ships sailing to Greece as of Sept. 25 “after the Greek authorities seized 11 vessels for allegedly violating a maritime regulation overseeing the quality of international sea transportation.”
In a statement sent to regional port authorities, the ministry banned the sailing of Turkish-flagged commercial yachts to Greece as of Sept. 25, as well as regular passenger ships as of Oct. 12, citing the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (Paris MoU) inspections.
Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan said Athens’ measures put Turkey’s position as a “white flag” country at risk, with a potential downgrade to “gray flag” status.
“As of today we have stopped the sailing of commercial yachts to Greece. The fact that Greece started to inspect and seize such small commercial vessels, shorter than 24 meters, by claiming that they did not comply with the rules, began to put at risk Turkey’s status as a white flag country. This is unacceptable,” Arslan told state broadcaster TRT Haber on Sept. 25.
“We have also warned our correspondents and sent our experts there. We said that if Greece changes this exception, our commercial yachts will travel to Greek islands and contribute to your trade. But we will not allow those vessels to sail as long as Greece maintains its attitude regarding this rule,” he said, adding that he would discuss the issue with his Greek counterpart on Oct. 12 during his visit to the country.
According to athensnewsagency, the problems started when owners of Turkish yachts, due to the relatively low tourist traffic on the Turkish coast and the very high traffic on Greek islands, especially on Rhodes and Kos, started going to these islands as visitors and, in collaboration with Greek businesses, taking on passengers and selling “pirate” cruises to the Greek islands, depriving the Greek state of revenue.Greek authorities launched inspections to fend off such practices, in some cases imposing penalties such as banning the vessels involved from sailing.
A series of negotiations between Turkish and Greek officials followed, but the inspection and subsequent sailing ban imposed on a 35-metre Turkish yacht found to be offering illegal cruises a few days earlier provoked Turkey’s retaliatory reaction.
According to reports, the seizure of four commercial yachts bound for the Greek islands of Kos and Rhodes, as well as a freighter off the port of Kalamaki, played a role in the ministry’s move.
A number of firms operating tours to Greek islands have announced that they would halt their plans as of Oct. 12, though some said they have not received any official text on the issue.
Bodrum Sailors Association head Mustafa Demiröz said that “eleven yachts and ships have been seized by Greek authorities up to now. If another yacht or ship is seized, we will be downgraded from white flag status, which symbolizes quality in terms of sea transport, to gray flag. After that comes black flag status.”
The latest measures are mostly expected to affect travel from the Aegean Turkish coasts of Bodrum, Marmaris, Kuşadası, Dikili and Ayvalık to Greece, and sailors demanded a review of the ministry’s decision.
The decision is a blow to tourism industry on both sides of the Aegean Sea. Many Turkish tourists travel to the Greek islands for short breaks, boosting revenues on both sides.