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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia to Free Turkish Tanker Captain

STOCKHOLM — Georgia will release a Turkish tanker captain sentenced to 24 years in prison for breaking an economic embargo on rebel region Abkhazia if an $18,000 fine is paid, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday.

The captain's tanker was detained in late August in the Black Sea by the Georgian coastguard as it tried to deliver fuel to Abkhazia. Davutoglu said the tanker's operator Densa was willing to pay the fine.

Georgia banned all economic and 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.

"The captain, Mehmet Ozturk, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison, will be released if 30,000 lari ($18,000) is paid, and the company Densa agreed to pay that fine," Davutoglu told reporters in Stockholm.

A Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman said Ozturk's release had not yet been finalized and would be decided during Davutoglu's visit to Tbilisi next week.

Ozturk told a Georgian court that his vessel was seized at gunpoint, but Georgian coastguard authorities have said the captain was captured in Georgian waters on his way to Abkhazia.

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