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Georgian sailors remain trapped in Abkhazia

By Ernest Petrosyan
Thursday, February 16
For nearly a year, four Georgian sailors have been trapped on a ship in the port of Sokhumi, Abkhazia.

Giorgi Sapanadze from Poti, and Manuchar Bolkvadze, Sulkhan Tsetskhvaladze, and Aziz Vashakidze of Batumi, joined the crew of the Panama-flagged Hakki Ehilioglus on February 21, 2011. They signed a six-month contract with the vessel's Turkish owners, Starlet Shipping Company.

According to their families, the sailors were deceitfully and illegally taken to the waters off the breakaway region without receiving payment for work completed. Relatives claim the sailors have no petrol, food, or medicine. They are unable to leave the ship, as the captain confiscated their passports.

They accuse their employer, represented in Turkey by Laura Chaduneli, of cheating the sailors, although Chaduneli claims they will receive their salaries and be returned to Georgia-controlled territory shortly.

As the Director of the Maritime Transport Agency, Temur Iobidze, told Interpressnews, various departments are involved in this issue and are attempting to solve it through international means.

“The sailors’ relatives addressed us only a few weeks ago. As it is the occupied territory and closed waters, no ship was able to enter the waters. The Georgian Foreign Ministry is also involved in this case. We do not know the details of what happened; however we are working to return them from Sokhumi,” Iobidze said.

The Georgian Consulate General in Istanbul is also involved.

According to Merab Chijavadze, a representative of the Georgian Sailors’ Trade Union, the last information he received about the detained sailors was in October 2011. He notes that his Russian colleagues are also unable to help.

As for the sailors’ salary, which has not been paid for a year, Iobidze says that international practices cannot be applied due to their presence on disputed territory, and so the payment of their salary depends only on the owner’s conscience.