The piracy problem in the Indian Ocean refuses to go away and the risk of Seychelles being affected remains very high. If the opposition in this country was less spiteful we could be well on our way to having a military base on an outer island to keep potential pirates at bay and help to mitigate the danger of piracy in our Exclusive Economic Zone.
The irony is that only two days after 5 Somalis convicted for piracy were repatriated to their home country from Seychelles, the report of an oil tanker having been hijacked by suspected pirates has hit the international media. There are currently 15 more Somalis still incarcerated at Montagne Posée Prison for piracy related convictions. The 5 Somalis were repatriated following their successful appeal against their conviction of 12 years in June 2016 for piracy by the Supreme Court of Seychelles. As fate would have it, whilst the 5 Somalis are still savouring the sweet taste of freedom, around 8 people believed to be on board the hijacked tanker may be tasting something very different in Puntland at the hands of suspected Somalis, who claim to be fishermen who suffer from the illegal fishing in the area…
This is the first such hijacking reported in the region within the last 5 years and it is yet to be confirmed if this is a hijacking for ransom. Nevertheless, report of renewed piracy attacks on vessels in the Indian Ocean does not bode well for our country because, in addition to our very own Seychellois brothers being hijacked and taken to Somalia, two pillars our country’s economy (i.e. fisheries and tourism) have been adversely affected by the scourge in the recent past.
Our readers will recall that when piracy activities began off the coast of Somalia, Seychelles, with President James Michel at the helm, was at the forefront of the war against piracy. At the time our country was politically stable, so the President had room to manoeuvre and was free to take bold decisions, for which he received the support of the National Assembly because, at the end of the day, he had our country, our economy and our people at heart. President Michel championed the cause of the small island States in the Indian Ocean and our vulnerability given that our economy was being directly affected. Thus, we managed to solicit the assistance of international organisations like the European Union, China, India, amongst others.
As a result of President Michel’s determination and the support of his Government, our seamen who were being held hostage in Somalia were released without ransom and reunited with their families and other loved ones. There was also a considerable increase in international forces, such as the European Union Naval Force, which runs anti-piracy operations in the area, patrolling the region and eventually helping to curb piracy activities in the Indian Ocean for the last five years.
We will recall also that the opposition at the time were often against our government’s decisions and spent considerable time creating obstacles to frustrate the negotiations with those responsible for holding our innocent citizens, who were simply trying to make their living on the high seas. At some point, it was reported that there was even a local traitor by the name of “John” who was in cahoots with the pirates and was encouraging them to press for ransom from our country because, according to him, our Government had money. Our nation as a whole suffered a lot during those times and the prospect of living the same nightmares again is stirring up volumes of emotions among the population, especially among our seafarers and their loved ones.
Lest we forget, when Seychelles was seeking to establish a military base on the outer islands with the support of the Indian Government, the opposition was dead against it and fabricated all sorts of rumours about our government selling our islands to the Indians and what not, simply to throw their usual spanners in the works. Now the piracy problem and its threat to mariners, including our local fishermen, who use this busy commercial sea route in our territorial waters, could be coming back to haunt us in more sophisticated manner.
The big question now is how are we going to tackle the situation? So far the opposition has proved themselves bent on using their majority in the National Assembly to try and block the work of government to frustrate the citizens. Can we expect the LDS leopard to change its spots overnight and back our Government’s assiduous effort to protect our citizens and keep our country safe from the scourge of piracy?
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, so let us wait and see how the LDS muscles in the National Assembly tackles this one.