Greece, Turkey set tensions aside for direct maritime link

Greece, Turkey set tensions aside for direct maritime link

The “Smyrna di Levante” left Thessalonika to inaugurate the first service between continental Greece and the seaside town of Izmir in western Turkey – Copyright AFP Sylvain THOMAS

Setting aside longstanding strategic rivalry, Greece and Turkey on Monday inaugurated a “friendship line” ferry link between Thessalonika in northern Greece and the western Turkish port of Izmir.

Greek-based shipping company Levante Ferries announced the MV “Smyrna di Levante” vessel had started passenger and freight services between the two countries, the first direct maritime link between the regional rivals.

The company said the vessel carrying up to 948 passengers and as many as 300 vehicles would both promote the neighbours’ commercial interests and deepen ties. 

The ship began its maiden test voyage from Thessalonika at 5.15 pm (1414 GMT) on Monday with 35 people aboard — mainly Levante employees — bound for Izmir some 14 hours away.   

The ferry firm has over the past three years invested a reported 16 million euros in the three-times weekly route, the first direct major link between continental Greece and Turkey.

Some eastern Greek islands off the Turkish coast offer more ad hoc trips to nearby Turkish ports courtesy of small boats.

“We want to link Europe and Asia (and) benefit from market demand” to “promote maritime and tourist transport,” said Greek operator Yannis Dimitriadis.

Greece and Turkey have endured long bouts of sometimes bitter rivalry with a series of maritime border disputes raising tensions amid Turkish accusations its fellow NATO member seeks to militarise more than a dozen of its islands in the Aegean Sea.

Athens has pushed back against Ankara’s demands that it desist from doing so.

Last week saw a further spat at an informal EU gathering in Prague when Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis left an official dinner during an address by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

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