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Poti demands pirate ransom07.12.2010 | 11:16
There is an impression that Georgia is trying to take revenge on Russia for the defeat in August 2008. Last weekend Georgian Coast Guard detained Russian ship Kazan-City for water pollution in the Black Sea area. On the same day the ship was fined USD 40,000 but only USD 3,000 is the compensation for the environmental damage. Where will the rest of the money go?
The struggle that Georgian Coast Guard so fervently pursues against foreign violators continues. Not long ago Pranik ship under the Moldavian flag with Russian and Ukrainian crew onboard was arrested in the port of Poti. Local authorities considered the decision made by Sergey Goloshapov, a citizen of Russia, to launch a lifeboat without preliminary agreement with the port's state control body sufficient for a USD 30,000 fine. Indeed, Goloshapov was not given permission to launch a "small-sized floating vehicle" by the Georgians but who could have thought that this minor offence would end in a fine for illegal movement in the country's territorial waters? As a result, the port of Poti got the money, and Pranik went back home. However, it was not the end of
misfortunes for other ships in the Georgian port.
On December 4 the republic's authorities detained Russian ship Kazan City on an official pretext of sea water pollution in the territory of the port. The coast police reported that in view of "negligence of the crew a large amount of oil" was poured out of the ship. The court of Poti, now a hyperactive body for writing out penalties, imposed a USD 3,000 fine. The rest of the amount due - USD 37,000 - is supposed to be paid "in favor of the budget of Georgia". Curious phrasing, isn't it?
As Oil Marine Group LLC (Asktrakhan), owner of the Kazan City, reports, not "a large amount of oil" was spilled in the port, as the Georgian side claims, but only 50 liters of diesel fuel. Now the company is investigating the incident to determine all circumstances.
It is already clear that the Russian side will have questions for the administration of Poti. Georgia's coast guard detains foreign ships for violation of navigation norms rather often, it is the country's domestic affair. But why does the fine for a violation (even if it did take place) is less than one tenth of the impost Oil Marine Group is supposed to pay? And what's the criterion for defining a penalty "in favor of Georgia's budget" that amounts to dozens thousand dollars?
There is one suggestion. In fact, last week Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili literally disbanded the republic's naval administration that, as it turned out, risked being included in the black list of international structures more than once. Local authorities had received a heap of warnings but preferred to keep them a secret for the country leaders and deserved fair punishment in the end. "This is sheer irresponsibility and lack of professionalism of certain officials", - Saakashvili exclaimed. - This is what poor competence can lead to!" The president did not specify what exactly Western partners were dissatisfied with. Yet, he promised to punish all guilty persons.
It is not impossible that all fines paid by "dishonest" ships will be spent on development of the country's naval infrastructure. And the words "in favor of the state budget" sound quite appropriate then. Illegal launch of a safeboat or a diesel fuel spill? Please, pay right to the treasury. Yet, another question appears: how legally valid are these extortions that can really take Georgia to the "black list" and send all foreign navigators away?
In an interview with GeorgiaTimes Mikhail Voytenko, Sea Bulletin editor-in-chief presented his own opinion on legality of Kazan city ship detention in Poti. According to him, if the ship's blame is undisputable, a fine is justified. "In Europe spills are punished with large fines no matter the size of a spill", - our interlocutor tells. - The water area can be far from clean but if a ship is caught spilling, the fine will be immediate and ruthless. Still, according to official information, the diesel was spilled going through an inflexible hose when the cargo was transferred to the onshore terminal. It has to be established whose fault it was - of the port or the ship. "I used to sail on tankers, so I know that most often hoses are the property of onshore terminals. As far as I know, in these cases hoses belong to the onshore companies, not ships", - Voytenko added.
Voytenko is also dissatisfied with the work of the court that immediately ruled out a fine without investigation. 50 liters of diesel fuel is not a serious violation after all. "Usually in such cases a ship should be released on bail to indemnify the ship owner for serious damage, and only then the investigation starts, - Mikhail Voytenko says. - In this case, the ship will be detained until the fine is paid. It looks like a violation to me. Everyone must realize that if no violation, no ecological catastrophe or no crime took place the ship can't be detained when the bail is paid. In this situation the whole sum of the fine is demanded, and I don't think it's fair".