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Report: Georgia Frees Turkish Crew, Holds Captain


Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -- Georgian authorities have released 16 crew members who were held after their Turkish tanker broke an economic embargo on rebel region Abkhazia, but the captain remained in custody, CNN Turk said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who will visit Tbilisi next week, said on September 4 that Georgia would release Captain Mehmet Ozturk, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison for violating the embargo, if an $18,000 fine was paid.

A decision on Ozturk's release would be made at a later date, CNN Turk reported, without saying how it obtained the information.

The tanker was seized in late August in the Black Sea by the Georgian coast guard as it tried to deliver fuel to Abkhazia.

Georgia banned all commercial activity with 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 has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

Ozturk told a Georgian court his vessel, the "Buket," was taken at gunpoint. Coast guard authorities have said the captain was captured in Georgian waters en route to Abkhazia.

The tanker's operator Densa, which said on September 4 it would pay the fine, maintains the tanker was in international waters.

The fuel tanker, operating under a Panama flag with a Turkish and Azeri crew, was carrying 2,000 tons of petrol and 700 tons of diesel.
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