Turkey says it warned Russia over Black Sea ship attack

Russia told to avoid further tension after an attack on a Turkish vessel last weekend

A video still purportedly shows crew members kneeling on the deck of the Sukru Okan on the Black Sea on August 13. Russian Defence Ministry / Reuters
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Breaking a days-long silence after a Turkish-owned cargo vessel was attacked by the Russian navy last weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that it had warned Moscow to avoid further escalations after the incident.

"After the intervention, our interlocutors in the Russian Federation were warned appropriately to avoid such attempts, which escalate tensions in the Black Sea," the Turkish presidency said.

The Sukru Okan vessel was flying the flag of Palau when it was fired on by the Russian navy last Sunday.

Russian military personnel then boarded the ship to conduct an inspection, before letting it sail on towards the Ukrainian port of Izmail – the main export route for Kyiv's agricultural products.

The incident came during a surge in Black Sea region attacks that followed Russia's decision to withdraw from a landmark Ukrainian grain deal last month.

Turkey helped to broker the UN-backed agreement, using its good relations with Moscow and Kyiv to strike the only major deal reached by the sides during the war.

But Mr Erdogan's office came under criticism at home for saying nothing about the Russian attack.

His office responded to critics on Thursday, saying it was technically up to Palau to address the incident.

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"Even if the owner of the Sukru Okan vessel is Turkish, the ship is not Turkish-flagged," it said.

"In international law, it is the 'flag state' that is more important than the name of the ship or the personality of its personnel."

Palau is a Pacific archipelago whose flag is often used by shipping companies to freely access international ports.

Updated: August 18, 2023, 4:56 AM