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Georgian sailors flee Misurata, Libya

By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, March 11
Georgian sailors, detained in the town of Misurata in the war torn state of Libya, have managed to escape. According to the family of the ship's captain Iveri Kurashvili, the sailors have reached the port of Valetta, Malta. Kurashvili’s wife, Manana Ambalia told journalists that she received an SMS from her son, who is also a member of the crew, early yesterday morning. Giorgi Kurashvili informed her that they have reached Malta with no problems.

The Georgian-flagged ship Vasilios N, carrying more than 40 tons of cement, left from one of the Turkish ports for Libya ten months ago. The owner of the cargo was waiting for the ship in Libya’s port of Misurata, 210 kilometers from the capital Tripoli. However the ship got caught up in a strong storm in Greek waters and about 20 percent of the cargo was soaked. The owner of the cargo refused to accept the soaked materials. According to the family members of the Georgian sailors, the dispute between the owner of the ship and the owner of the cargo is in progress, while the ship and its crew is being kept in detention in Libya. Apart from 6 Georgian sailors, the crew of Vasilios N consists of the Ukrainian and one Azerbaijani citizen.

The sailors fled on Wednesday, according to their family members. They managed to navigate according to stars and the moon, as the communication system was totally out of order, Manana Ambalia told media. “We fled from Libya with a ship, approaching Malta now. We are all well” – Ambalia received this SMS Wednesday night. Georgian consul in Italy, Vakhtang Andguladze has contacted the Georgian sailors and has promised legal assistance for them, according to the Kurashvili family.

The Georgian Transport Administration’s marine department chief, Teimuraz Iobidze said the Administration is working on the issue of Vasilios N. “Our citizens were forced to leave the Libyan port of Misurata and now they are in Malta. The Federation of Transport workers is involved in the case, as the owner of the ship still have to pay salaries to the crew,” Iobidze noted. Earlier on Monday the Georgian Foreign Ministry said that the Georgian officials are in touch with the Georgian sailors in Libya and that the Foreign Ministry is “working on evacuating the Georgian crew.” “We are in contact with them. They were in Libya before the current events started in the country and used to stay there with their own will. As far as we know, they have a problem with salaries. Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working on several options with several states, to enable our sailors leave Libya,” First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikoloz Vashakidze said.

Georgian sailors trapped in Misurata asked for the authorities’ help in February, as violent clashes erupted in Libya. “Giorgi told me that they are not allowed to enter the town of Misurata, the port is closed. Everything is cut off- internet, phone lines,” Ambalia said on February 23, adding that the sailors claim they had very poor living conditions. “They are not being paid their salaries and they earn their living by fishing,” Ambalia told journalists then. The port town of Misurata, which is the third largest city of Libya, has become one of the centers of violent military clashes between pro and anti Gadaffi forces.