Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan praised the cooperation between Turkey and Georgia over efforts to rescue a ship's crew, with three Turks and 15 Georgians, who were taken hostage by Somali pirates roughly one-and-a-half years ago, in a welcoming ceremony at Atatürk Airport on Friday morning for the return of the crew; the Georgian president was also present.
OLIB G, a Maltese-flagged merchant vessel with a crew of 18 -- 15 Georgians and three Turks was seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean on Sept. 8, 2010. Since then, Turkey and Georgia jointly stepped up efforts to rescue their citizens as negotiations to convince the pirates to release the hostages lasted more than one-and-a-half years. The Somali government also engaged in the efforts in close cooperation with Turkey to secure their release.
They were released on Jan. 8 and arrived on Thursday in Mombasa, a coastal city of Kenya; they then traveled to Turkey.
According to an item in the Somalia Report on Jan. 8, the vessel was released after the pirates received a $3 million ransom.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was present at the ceremony to welcome the crew and met with Erdoğan in the State Guest House after that.
In a joint press meeting after their face-to-face talks, Erdoğan pointed out that the citizens of the two countries had been held hostage since September 2010.
“We stepped up efforts to rescue the hostages. We embraced our brothers [the crew]. Saakashvili sent a private plane to Kenya. I thank him in front of you,” said Erdoğan. Erdoğan noted that the Turkish government had been in close contact with the Georgian government to solve the crisis, which greatly stressed the families of the hostages. Piracy has been one of the major security threats to international trade and navigation in the Indian Ocean and along the Eastern African coast as major international powers like the US and the UK intensified their naval presence in the region to safeguard sea navigation.
Turkey also sent a ship last year to contribute to joint military actions along with the US and NATO to combat piracy.
During the press meeting, Erdoğan said that relations between the two countries are developing in a wide range of areas from energy to trade, from the economy to the military. Energy is a vital field in which Turkey and Georgia have mutual prospects and benefits as the Baku-Ceyhan-Tbilisi pipeline is of vital importance for both countries, Erdoğan noted.
Turkey and Georgia have already signed a visa-exemption agreement aimed at bolstering tourism and the economy since the northern Anatolian region of Turkey has close links with the south Caucasian region.
In addition, another agreement is to be set concerning extradition of convicts between the countries. Meanwhile, noting that the construction of the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railroad will start in 2013, Erdoğan said another protocol is being prepared to construct a dam over the Kura River, which starts in northeastern Anatolia then flows to Georgia.
Due to difficult winter conditions, a new road will be built to make transportation from Georgia to Borçka, a district in the northeastern province of Artvin, easier, Erdoğan noted.
Additionally, Erdoğan also touched upon the state of Meskhetian (Ahıska) Turks, a sub-ethnic Turkic community who had lived in Georgia until they were deported by Joseph Stalin in 1944 to Central Asia and dispersed to several countries. Erdoğan said he hoped that Saakashvili will facilitate the return of the community to their lands soon.