The government of Seychelles, through the minister responsible, the Hon. Joel Morgan, Minister of Environment, Natural Resources and Transport, has categorically refuted allegations spread by the “Independent” in the UK, then subsequently widely reproduced on the Internet, that the archipelago is unsafe for visitors. The government’s formal response is reproduced further down in the interest of fair reporting, but before that a few comments in my own capacity.
While in the Seychelles very recently, this correspondent had the opportunity to discuss security and related issues with competent individuals, generally thought to be in the knowledge what government does vis-a-vis the protection of the archipelago’s territory and waters, the protection of tourism and fishing, and the protection of her own citizens.
No one pretended that Somali piracy was NOT a problem; everyone acknowledged that it was a matter of concern but also pointed out that the capacity to deal with it had been substantially boosted in 2009, with better equipment and more men deployed on some islands, as well as by the country’s coast guard.
Security cooperation with the international naval coalition was also described as “an effective added deterrent” since daily flight by conventional reconnaissance aircraft by coalition partners based at the Mahe International Airport, as well as the use of UAV’s or unmanned aerial vehicles by American detach, provided much-needed intelligence about the approach routes of Somali ocean terrorists and gave early detection of their intention to enter the 200 nautical miles economic exclusion zone declared by the Seychelles a while ago.
There was consensus in the discussions that as a next step, the mandate and rules of engagement may need reviewing so as to create a more effective deterrent and that the UAVs may eventually need to be armed to be living up to their full potential. There was also agreement that with the strengthening of the legislative regime in the Seychelles, successful prosecution of those ocean terrorists caught can be achieved, and it is understood that special capacity in the main prison on Mahe Island had already been increased with the generous support of friendly nations.
It was also learned that further training of Seychellois security was ongoing and that added naval assets would join the coast guard in 2010 to more effectively control the shipping corridors in and out of the main seaport in Mahe and patrol the more outlying islands, some of which are hundreds of miles away from Mahe.
It is obvious that the article by the Independent was sensational, that is what obviously sells newspapers, but it did not portray a fair picture of what is going on in Seychelles.
Ministerial Statement re. article by the Independent:
“Your article – ‘How the Seychelles became a pirates’ paradise’ – falsely suggests to the reader that the Seychelles islands are an unsafe destination where visitors should ‘fear’ coming face to face with pirates on one of the islands’ beaches.
“I must clarify that the Seychelles islands are safe. Tourists on the islands of Seychelles are not under direct threat of being attacked by pirates and should not be anxious of what you call ‘the big fear’ that pirates will ‘launch a raid on one of the islands’ beaches’ or ‘nightmare scenarios’ of pirates ‘waving guns at free-spending tourists’ on Seychelles’ beaches.
“This is an unjustified and unrealistic picture of the current situation.
“The Seychelles islands possess a vast exclusive economic zone of 1.3 million square kilometers of ocean, roughly the size of western Europe.
“We have appreciated the strong support from all our international partners who have sought to assist us with patrolling and surveillance of the zone.
“2009 was a year of increased piracy activity off the Somali basin, and pirate incursions in our EEZ increased. As you noted, this has severely affected the niche tourism sector of leisure yachting and the large-scale tuna fisheries operations and consequently our economy.
“However, the impact on sea-based activity and land-based activity should not be confused. Seychelles has been directly affected by piracy on the high seas, as boats passing through the economic zone were targeted. However, Seychelles’ tourism arrivals experienced only a 1.4 percent drop from the previous year, unheard of elsewhere in the region particularly during a year when the global recession impacted worldwide travel.
“This is proof that, overall, Seychelles’ tourism industry was not directly affected by piracy because the tourists are safe.
“However, tourism at sea in certain areas is still a risk. The Seychelles government has issued warnings to leisure yachts wishing to sail beyond the inner islands, as it is not possible to guarantee their safety on an individual basis on the high seas.
“While Seychelles and its international partners, such as the European Union’s naval force, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, India, and the US continue to refine strategies to combat piracy in certain areas of our vast EEZ, both in terms of the surveillance and interception of suspected pirate craft, it is a case of ‘business as usual’ for all yachting and boat traffic among our inner islands.
“Seychelles prides itself on being at the forefront of the fight against piracy as we actively promote our islands as an anti-piracy hub for international forces. We have had a 50 percent increase in the number of warships entering our port in the last year and have increased surveillance programs from our islands. For this reason our islands remain safe and are not, as you nonchalantly claim, a ‘pirates’ paradise’.”