Turkish authorities on Wednesday banned all Turkish-flagged commercial yachts from sailing to the Greek islands from the Turkish coast. The ban was announced by Turkish Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communication Ahmet Arslan, in retaliation to inspections carried out by Greek authorities on Turkish yachts suspected of offering illegal Greek island cruises.
The minister also announced that, as of October 12, all passenger and commercial vessels will be banned from sailing to Greece from Turkey, effectively cancelling all regular ferry connections between Greek islands and the Turkish coast.
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. Turkey objected, on the grounds that its standing as a “white flag” country in international maritime organisations was at risk, with a potential downgrade to “gray flag” status.
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.
In statements on Tuesday, Arslan indicated that dialogue with Greece on the issue might continue.
The Turkish government’s decision is not popular on Turkey’s coast, however, where many Turks like to visit the Greek islands for short breaks and many towns and markets are dependent on the custom of visiting Greeks from the islands. Many local government officials and chambers of commerce in Turkey have started talking of the disastrous impact of the decision on local communities and have linked this to the strong support for Erdogan’s political opposition in the coastal areas.