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Georgia holds Turkish captain ahead of Davutoğlu’s visit

Today's Zaman, 7 September 2009

Georgia over the weekend released 17 crew members of a Turkish-operated tanker seized after trying to deliver fuel to breakaway Abkhazia in violation of a Georgian embargo; however, the Turkish captain, Mehmet Özturk, remains in custody after being sentenced last week to 24 years in prison. 

The judge who sentenced Özturk said his appeal was still under consideration. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is scheduled to arrive in Tbilisi today for an official two-day visit, is expected to raise the issue during his talks in the Georgian capital.

“An hour ago Poti city court took the decision to release 17 crew members of this ship," Supreme Court spokeswoman Nana Vasadze told the Reuters news agency on Saturday. Vasadze said 16 members were released upon the payment of 3,000 lari ($1,785) each. Another was released after payment of 10,000 lari ($5,952).

Speaking to reporters on Friday in Stockholm, Davutoğlu had said: “The captain, Mehmet Öztürk, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison, will be released if 30,000 lari (11,000 pounds) is paid, and the company Densa agreed to pay that fine.” A Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman, meanwhile, said Öztürk's release had not yet been finalized and would be decided during Davutoğlu's visit to Tbilisi.

The tanker's operator, Densa, said it was willing to pay the fine. “We were hoping that this decision would come out of the Georgian court, but we'll pay it. Whatever the figure is, we'll pay it,” said Hüseyin San, Densa's general manager.

Öztürk told a Georgian court his vessel was taken at gunpoint. Coast guard authorities have said the captain was captured in Georgian waters on his way to Abkhazia. The fuel tanker, operating under a Panamanian flag with a Turkish and Azeri crew, was carrying 2,000 tons of petrol and 700 tons of diesel. Its Turkish operator said the tanker had been in international waters and said it would appeal the captain's sentence and the ship's detention.

Source: Today's Zaman

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