TBILISI (Reuters)–Georgia said on Monday it had agreed with Turkey on the fate of a tanker captain jailed for violating a Georgian embargo on the breakaway Abkhazia region, hinting at his imminent release.
Asked after meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, whether they had agreed on the release of the Turkish captain, who was sentenced last week to 24 years in prison, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told reporters: “I think we’ve found a solution to this issue. The final decision will be announced tomorrow after a meeting with the Georgian president.” Speaking on Friday in Stockholm, Davutoglu said, “The captain, Mehmet Ozturk, will be released if a 30,000 lari fine is paid, and the tanker’s operator, Densa company, has agreed to pay that fine.”
Seventeen crew members were freed on Saturday. Densa says the vessel was seized at gunpoint in international waters while Georgian coast guard authorities said they detained the ship in Georgian waters. Ankara Reuters with Today’s Zaman
Georgia banned all economic and commercial activity in its two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, after last year’s five-day war with Russia, when Moscow repelled a Georgian assault on South Ossetia.
Russia recognized both as independent states. Russian troops secure their borders, including Abkhazia’s coastline.
Last week, a Russian official warned Georgia that attempts to block ships from reaching a Moscow-aligned separatist region of Georgia could end in military intervention. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko did not make any specific threats in televised comments on Thursday but said “attempts to install a sea blockade” on Abkhazia “could lead to a serious armed incident.”
Abkhazia says Georgia has halted 23 ships in Black Sea waters near Abkhazia this year. Georgia claims they entered the region illegally. Last year, following the brief war between Georgia and Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in August, Turkey proposed a Caucasus platform for a peaceful resolution to regional disputes. The proposal for the creation of the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform has been welcomed by all four countries that Turkey says should join: Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Turkey and Georgia cooperate closely in energy, transportation and other areas. Georgia is a transit country in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which ships 850,000 barrels per day of high-quality Azeri crude oil from the Caspian to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. A parallel natural gas pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline (BTE), stretches from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia. Opened in 2007, it will eventually be able to carry 20 billion cubic meters of offshore Azeri gas per year.