ISTANBUL — The Turkish operator of a tanker that was seized by Georgian authorities for delivering fuel to breakaway Abkhazia said Friday that he had given up the idea of sending any further supplies to the Black Sea territory.
Georgia has passed legislation that forbids commercial traffic heading to Abkhazia in an attempt to isolate the territory, which was recognized by Moscow as independent after a five-day war between Georgia and Russia last August.
Abkhazia has threatened a “proportionate response” to the Georgian blockade, which it says is aimed at suffocating it. The operator’s statements suggested that Tbilisi’s actions might be working.
“The risks are too high now. We take cargo from one place to another, legally, and we don’t want to deal with illegal actions such as these,” said Huseyin San, general manager of the tanker operator Densa, whose company had been making regular trips to the Abkhaz port of Sukhumi to deliver fuel.
Georgia says the tanker was picked up in Georgian territorial waters, but San said Georgia had intercepted it in international waters off Turkey before taking it to the Georgian port of Poti.
San said the Georgian authorities had made no announcement of their intention before the seizure, which meant that they might have breached the ship’s right to pass freely through international waters.
Under Georgian law, foreigners risk prosecution if they enter Abkhazia or another breakaway region, South Ossetia, without permission from Tbilisi.
Some Abkhaz officials say the policy is simply pushing Abkhazia closer to Russia, which already controls Abkhazia’s borders and patrols its coastline.
Abkhazia’s economy minister, Kristina Ozgan, said Thursday that Abkhazia would import 500 tons of diesel from Russia to compensate for the tanker’s detention.
Georgia said Friday that the fate of the ship, its cargo and crew were in the hands of the courts. Local media reports have suggested that the cargo could be confiscated and auctioned.
San says he will open an international court case citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea if authorities try to unload the ship and sell its $3 million to $4 million worth of gasoline and diesel.
San, who said he had spoken with the captain, currently being held with a crew of 13 Turks and 4 Azeris in Batumi, said everyone who was on board the ship was well.
The captain faces up to 24 years in prison if found guilty of smuggling and violating the Georgian ban on unauthorized economic activity.
On Thursday, the Georgian coast guard said it had detained a vessel carrying scrap metal from Abkhazia. It was operating under a Cambodian flag.