Friday, 31 August 2012

Piracy in the Seychelles

In recent years, the question has arisen amongst visitors to the Seychelles, especially those whose intention it was to spend time sailing, as to what the direct risk of piracy is to them. These questions are often answered with a simple “you’ll be fine” from tour operators and travel agents alike. However, this is not enough information, especially for those who are travelling with families. People do not want to willingly and knowlingly put their loved ones at risk, and as such, the concerns over piracy have a had direct impact on the tourism industry in the Seychelles.
To understand the threat of piracy to a holidaymaker, one needs to understand the Seychelles as a geographic location and economic location, as well as how and where the pirates operate. Officially called the Republic of the Seychelles, it comprises of 115 islands, 43 granitic and 72 coralline, scattered over an Exclusive Economic Zone of 1.374 million Km² (EEZ). It lies 5 degrees south of the Equator and as such enjoys a tropical climate, and is hot and humid throughout the year with very little seasonal change.

Below is an illustration of the Seychelles EEZ (in blue, 1.374 million Km²)

Pirates Modus Operandi and Impact on Seychelles

Pirates are usually armed with light weapons for ease of transport, as well as communication and navigation devices. Vessels attacked off Somalia are randomly selected, and are not specifically targeted for any reason other than how easily they can be boarded. Pirates simply patrol an area, wait for a target of opportunity, and attempt to board.

In February 2009, the first Seychelles flagged vessel was hijacked, and was followed by another vessel in April. Ten Seychellois were taken hostage. Within weeks following the two incidents, there was a sudden increase in attacks within the Seychelles EEZ.  In 2009, 10 vessels were hijacked within the EEZ.

The expansion of the pirates was most certainly a concern for the Seychelles government, as it had an immediate impact on the tourism and fishing industries. The 2 sectors represent 65% of the country’s GDP, 36% of its labour force, and generates most of the foreign exchange earnings of the country. In 2009 alone, the tourism industry experienced an 8 million Euro loss that was directly attributed to piracy, while the fishing industry suffered similar losses of 4.1 million Euro. Piracy has mainly disrupted the tuna industry, leading to loss of employment, earnings, and shortage of tuna to the canning factory (tuna exportation has declined by 30%).  Approximately 6500 people (8% of the population) in Seychelles depend directly or indirectly on the fisheries sector for their livelihood. In total four local fishing vessels have been hijacked since 2010, however three were rescued by the military intervention of the Coast Guard.

Pirates in Action

 Seychelles Response to Piracy

Following the first piracy attack in Seychelles, the president established a High Level Committee on Piracy to derive a policy and plan and organise a response to piracy.  In addition, a Comprehensive Maritime Security Plan to combat maritime threats has been drafted and adopted.

A New prison has been built with the support of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to cater for pirates, and the Penal Code was amended in 2010 and has incorporated article 101 to 107 of United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The maximum sentence for the crime of piracy is now 30 years and a fine of SR 1million.  Seychelles have also signed various military agreements with a number of foreign partners such as the US, EU, NAVFOR, UAE, India, France, UK, Spain, and Denmark to get assistance in the fight against piracy.

The Seychelles Coast Guard has also been doing a sterling job. With their limited assets to cover an extensive EEZ of approximately 1.3 million square kilometres, they have intercepted and arrested hundreds of suspected pirates. They also work closely with other international partners, having warships and aircraft operating in the region for a common cause, the fight against piracy.

Seychelles Coast Guard

What is the threat of piracy to Seychelles Yacht Charter?

You might read this and say, all good and well, but what is the actual threat to me as a client of Seychelles Yacht Charter? That is the response I was hoping for.

Did you know that you are 100 times more likely to be mugged in your own hometown than you are in Beirut? That’s because you don’t live in Beirut. It sounds pretty obvious and logical doesn’t it... but the same sort of logic must be applied when considering the threat of piracy directly to yourself as our guest or even as a visitor to the Seychelles. Yes, piracy is a threat and a problem within the Seychelles EEZ, however that covers 1.374 million Km² of water, and attacks only occur many many miles from the main islands. If you are a fishing or commercial vessel sailing from the coast of Africa to the Seychelles, you could be at risk... If you are a leisure guest enjoying the islands around Seychelles, you are not at risk, simple as that. You see, the pirates would never venture too close to the main islands as there is far too much traffic and there is no way they would be able to successfully hijack a boat. Pirates are easy to spot via aerial surveillance, and they will be spotted and arrested long before they come anywhere near the waters we are legally allowed to operate in. We are only allowed to venture a maximum of 60 nautical miles from the main island of Mahe, and we rarely exceed 22 nautical miles. Only on deep sea fishing expeditions do we venture further, however we still stay well within the barriers set by the government of Seychelles.

With us, your safety is our utmost concern, and we can assure you that all steps are taken to guarantee that long before we leave the shore.

Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any further concerns or questions on this subject or any other.

*Stats, figures, and facts are based on a presentation by Lt. Michael Rossette, Deputy Chief of Staff, Seychelles People’s Defence Force.



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