Why is this submarine patrolling a Greek resort?

Since the middle of August, beachgoers, tourists, and locals alike have spotted a mysterious submarine loitering off the coast of Karpathos, Greece at least seven times. The vessel, an advanced Hellenic Navy Type 214 submarine was not simply soaking up the sun off a picturesque island – it was likely waiting to begin a mission to monitor Turkish naval and oceanographic ships in Greek and international waters.

Although the patrol occurred on the high seas, we can discern a good deal of information about the event from social media, news reporting, and publications by coastal authorities.

The sub first appeared in an Instagram post on August 18th in calm seas off a rocky, mountainous shore.

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Several further Instagram posts over the next few days confirmed the location of the sub in a small bay near the town of Karpathos:

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(full video here)

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There are several competing explanations for why the submarine was stationed off Karpathos between August 18th and August 25th. However, all possible conclusions are rooted generally in the deep animosity between Greece and Turkey and, specifically, in Greek mistrust of Turkish maritime resource exploration.

The first, and least plausible, possibility is that the submarine was shadowing the Turkish oceanographic vessel Oruc Reis as it sailed from its home port in Istanbul to Antalya. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced on August 18th that the Oruc Reis was currently sailing to the eastern Mediterranean to join several Turkish drilling vessels already there. However, it took ten days for visual evidence to surface that showed the Oruc Reis actually sailing from Istanbul (more on the Oruc Reis later…).

Research/Survey Vessel Oruc Reis southbound #Chios Strait towards southeast #Mediterranean Sea escorted by #Turkish Navy frigate F243 TCG Yildirim , corvette F512 TCG Buyukada and #Hellenic Navy frigate F450 HS Elli pic.twitter.com/eEo43PnZkU

— AegeanHawk (@AegeanHawk) August 28, 2019

Another explanation is that the submarine was monitoring a Turkish naval exercise off the Greek island of Kastelorizo (and southwest of the Turkish town of Kas) on August 19th. The exercise, published by the Antalya, Turkey NAVTEX station, only lasted for two hours but was located in Greek territorial waters fairly close to Karpathos Island. The distance between the submarine and the western edge of the exercise zone is about 35 miles. However, it would have been a bizarre use of resources to have the Greek Navy’s most advanced submarine stationed off the coast of a nearby island for over a week to monitor a two-hour long exercise.

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The most likely explanation might also be the most boring one – the sub may simply have been waiting!

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Picturesque Mediterranean sunset notwithstanding, that post on August 25th was the last time the Type 214 was seen off Karpathos. If the sub was indeed waiting for something, then what was it waiting for? Where did it go after its week in the small, sunny bay? The first steps to an answer may lie in a rusty, 34-year-old Greek undersea research vessel badly in need of a new paint job: the Aegaeo. During the night of August 25th/26th, the Aegaeo was tracked sailing right by Karpathos Island. Thanks to their similar equipment, abilities, and purposes, the submarine easily could have met up with the Aegaeo prior to escorting and accompanying it on its journey north and east:

Research/Survey Vessel Aegaeo heading east towards #Kastellorizo island sea area in southeast #Mediterranean Sea. pic.twitter.com/OoJ71zZNbN

— AegeanHawk (@AegeanHawk) August 26, 2019

When the Aegaeo turned back southwest on August 27th (seen in the first image below), the Turkish undersea research vessel Oruc Reis had left port in Istanbul and was sailing toward the area where the Aegaeo and submarine had been sailing (seen in the second image below) the day before:

Research/Survey Vessel Aegaeo heading west towards south of #Crete island after a short delay near #Kastellorizo island in southeast #Mediterranean Sea. pic.twitter.com/TnhDC6W5Zz

— AegeanHawk (@AegeanHawk) August 27, 2019

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My guess is that by the time the Oruc Reis arrived in the area between the Greek islands and the Turkish mainland on the 28th/29th, the Aegaeo had “dropped off” the submarine near the Turkish coast before the Aegaeo headed back to Greece. This approach would have allowed the submarine to head northwest, unencumbered by an old, unwieldy surface vessel, to monitor the Oruc Reis.

This theory is backed up by numerous assertions in Greek news media that Type 214 submarines would shadow the Oruc Reis during its journey from Istanbul to Antalya. Even more compelling are reports that Turkish military aircraft violated Greek airspace in the region dozens of times on August 27th and 28th. Significantly, seventeen of those violations were carried out by Turkish CN-235 anti-submarine aircraft near Greece’s Kastelorizo Island, which is precisely where our Karpathos submarine would have been dropped off before sailing west to keep an eye on the Oruc Reis.

I know this map has a bit of a Charlie Day feel to it but it’s a good way to track the movements of the various Turkish and Greek actors:

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Although the submarine’s crew enjoyed the sunshine off the resort in Karpathos between August 18th and 25th, they may have been just getting a little R&R prior to a secret, high-stakes mission shadowing an advanced Turkish oceanographic vessel threatening the sovereignty of Greek waters. While only a few people in the Greek and Turkish militaries know for sure where the Type 214 submarine went between August 25th and August 30th, open source data points to an assignment involving the Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis. I’ll certainly be on the look out for additional information that proves or disproves this theory.