Thursday, September 3, 2009

War Looms in Caucasus over Freight Vessels

24 Years for Turkish Skipper Delivering Fuel
Shipping News Feature

ABKHAZIA – War threatened this week as the Georgian breakaway state of Abkhazia, only recognised internationally by Russia and Nicaragua, threatened to sink any Georgian vessels entering what they consider as their territorial waters.

The head of Abkhazia, Sergei Bagapsh, made the statement after accusing Georgia of enforcing a blockade of the region which is under Russian protection. He made reference to “unending acts of piracy”. Georgia in turn stated they would hold Russia responsible for any attacks upon its shipping.

Tensions are rising in the region after a Panamanian flagged Turkish vessel, the “Buket” (pictured) was seized by Georgia whilst attempting to deliver fuel to Abkhazia, and on 1st September the captain, Mehmet Coskun Ozturk, received a 24 year jail term from the Georgian Courts for “smuggling”.

Fears are rising that the threats and counter threats will lead to a violent confrontation which has the ability to escalate. Relations between Russia and Georgia are still in a lamentable state after the recent war and the temporary invasion of Georgia last year. That incident started after a border dispute involving the other breakaway state in the region, South Ossetia.

Russia is insistent that it is the Abkhaz Navy that is taking action against a possible blockade but it does not appear to have sufficient firepower to do so against Georgia without outside assistance. Just last month Russia announced it was to invest almost $500 million in reinforcing Abkhazia’s borders and increasing Russia’s military presence.

Shippers are advised to be wary of the deteriorating political situation in the region