Sir James Mancham founding President of the Republic of Seychelles
Mr. Danny Faure Vice President of the Republic of Seychelles
President of the Court of Appeal
Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
Excellency African Union Ministers, Heads of Delegations. EU local Presidency representative
His Excellency Ambassador Smail Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security
H.E. Mr. Maciej Popowski, EU Deputy Secretary for European External Action Service
Honorable Leader of the Opposition
Diplomatic Advisor in the Office of the President
Excellency members of the Diplomatic Corps
Honorable members of the National Assembly
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed an honour and privilege to welcome you to Seychelles and to this very important meeting on ‘Lessons Learnt on Maritime Security and Piracy’.
Before I continue, allow me to express my thanks and gratitude to Minister Adam, my predecessor at Foreign Affairs who is now the Minister of Finance, Trade and the Blue Economy, together with his team for the work they did in helping to organise this event.
We also extend our heartfelt appreciation to the African Union and the European Union for selecting Seychelles as the venue for this meeting in recognition of the pivotal contribution made by Seychelles as part of the overall international response to combating piracy in the Indian Ocean region.
Your Excellencies, distinguished guests; little argument can be made as to how close the instability factor caused by piracy came to disrupting our trade and by that our economies. Had there not been resolve and quick action, a different story would have been told as we gather today. Yet even as we successfully countered the threats at sea caused by piracy, we note other threats and situations that will again test our resolve, if we are not vigilant.
Terror groups looking to finance their activities or to usurp the stability of states where internally turmoil brought about by armed conflicts, brings to the fore the possibility of a ‘spill over’ potentially affecting yet again our region. In all of this and perhaps camouflaged in the smoke of potential preoccupation to increased threats by terrorists, criminal gangs have stepped in establishing transit areas for their illicit trade, and for human trafficking, creating many different corridors in attempts to bypass our ever improving security capabilities.
I think we will agree that even as we have addressed one painful event, the rising storm which potentially follows may negate what has been achieved to date. Noting that commitments from our international partners will see naval forces in the area until 2016 and after that pulling back or reducing their presence, the deluge that comes with the ‘after’ becomes even more problematic and of concern to us.
Piracy appeared over our horizons, and had become such a concern affecting global commerce as it did, that one shudders to think what would have happened to Seychelles if our government had not stepped up and acted so decisively?
For the first time in a number of years we have cruise ships calling in ever increasing numbers to Port Victoria. We remember the situation we were facing where we had none of these ships calling to our islands. Now for 2015 we have 19 confirmed visits for this year.
Cruise ships are of course returning to our waters and the region because they feel it safe to do so. The stability of the Western Indian Ocean has been arrived at precisely because of the resolve of the region combined with the ability of our international partners with their deployed assets, coming together in a concerted effort to drive piracy away.
Meanwhile acts of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea continue to make headlines for the daring attacks and the armed robbery committed by criminal gangs who use the extensive coastlines of the neighboring states and the numerous territorial maritime borders, to disappear.
From press reports and according to the Togolese Maritime Prefecture, the Togolese Navy, on Sunday 1st February 2015, intervened to rescue 24 Ghanaians and Chinese sailors whose boat had been attacked by pirates in international waters. The resolve and quick action of the Togolese Navy was needed on that day. And it is certain that the resolve of all states in the Gulf of Guinea is there each and every day, as risks are assessed and intelligence acted upon to interdict those gangs who are galvanizing the world’s attention to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Western coast of Africa.
Even as we gauge the responses in the Western Indian Ocean that greatly diminished acts of piracy here, the approach and tactics used by criminal organizations in the Gulf of Guinea continues to present us with a challenge as solid responses and solutions are sought after to effectively mitigate and eliminate their activities altogether.
If there are lessons which have been learnt along the way, as our region came to grips with piracy flourishing off the Somali coast and beyond, it was that regional states quickly had to identify their own weaknesses and strengths and from there appropriate and robust responses initiated, through constructive and coordinated partnerships both within the region and beyond.
One may argue that there are differences in what is happening in the Western Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Guinea, and the coastal states bound by the Mediterranean. What is not different are that criminal acts of drug smuggling to human trafficking, exploit weaknesses within any system or approach. Conflicting priorities, vast expanses of ocean and lack of resources all add up negatively for us but are seen as positives by the criminals.
From the beginning of the crisis of piracy in the Western Indian Ocean, it was clear that the Seychelles had to do more to meet the challenges head on. Not only was there a need to re-evaluate and deploy different tactics by our defence forces as we have done, as an example deploying armed security units on board ships in our waters, but we had to agree as well with other countries to share information more, to put into place legal instruments to transfer pirates to our jurisdiction so criminal trials could be held, to agree to allow foreign military forces to forward deploy assets to our territory so that timely and effective patrols could be made in order to improve maritime domain awareness in the area and as well the region.
Instability in Somalia we know brought about piracy to our oceans. It is for this reason that President Michel said that in order to address instability at sea we must address the issue of stability on land, and as regards piracy, peace and stability in Somalia proper. To accomplish this and even as Seychelles strengthened its own capabilities to deter acts of piracy; we offered support to Somalia by providing assistance to train their officers in the area of fisheries management. We have also assisted their Civil Aviation Authority by organizing training sessions in the Seychelles for their air traffic controllers.
Given the need for the constant monitoring of threats in the maritime domain after the upsurge of piracy, Seychelles together with several international partners quickly moved to establish an information sharing and fusion centre which we call REFLECS3, or the Regional Fusion and Law Enforcement Centre for Safety and Security at Sea.
At this time I would like to acknowledge the following nations who signed up as we launched what was then RAPPICC. To Norway, United States of America, Australia, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom we say thank you for buying into the concept early on. Thank you as well to the UNODC for being the first international organization partner to REFLECS3. The REFLECS3 will on 25th February 2015 be celebrating its 2nd anniversary since it was officially opened by President James Michel and UK Minister Alistair Burt.
The REFLECS3 is in the exciting process of transition from a purely piracy focused theme to a broader mission which focuses on enhanced maritime security in the region and building on our successful programme for counter piracy, commencing a wider engagement with regional partners to help support the fight against transnational organized crime, (TNOC).
Besides the work of RAPPICC, now REFLECS3, the work of each member state within the Indian Ocean Commission has contributed greatly to anti-piracy efforts over-all with the establishment of the IOC Anti Piracy Cell in the Seychelles, staffed by officers from IOC members states. I salute each of them for ably and professionally representing their respective countries at the IOC APU, to the highest degree. The work you do is very much appreciated and is of great benefit.
A key element in the in the effort to combat Transnational Organized Crime is the sharing of both land based and maritime information. States in the region, within the IOC and beyond need to have proper systems in place so that information of a criminal nature can be shared and proper actions whether being military or law enforcement are followed upon. Doing so lessens the opportunity of organized crime gangs perpetuating their acts on our seas and on land. A recent publication by the World Trade Organization states that the Indian Ocean is becoming one of the busiest and most important maritime trade routes in the world. This growth provides ample opportunities for criminal elements to grow their own illicit trade.
With that said it is important for us here in the region to take ownership of and drive improvements that will improve our maritime domain awareness, and to combat maritime, criminal and terrorists’ threats. The greatest tool that can surely assist is having a proper information sharing mechanisms. This is why and with the European Union funded MASE project, Seychelles wasted little time in opening direct discussions with our neighbouring state, Madagascar and with the good offices of the Indian Ocean Commission, on how best to approach and implement MASE here in our region for the benefit of all. We have agreement in principle on the way forward with this very important project between our two countries.
It is at this point now that I would like to acknowledge the presence and support within the region of the following forces and organizations who add the muscle to our own attempts at securing our waters and keeping them open to free trade and access, namely: EUNAVFOR, NATO, the CMF, EUCAPNESTOR and the UNODC. Their missions from the onset have played a key role in not only our own but that of the regional states’ struggle against piracy. For the Seychelles, we have not lost one minute, seizing the opportunity to learn, adapt, apply and improve.
The Seychelles is where it is at today because of how we responded then and because of the prompt support and good will extended to us and the region. We did not give up our responsibility, rather we rallied, and we stepped up, contributed and delivered tangible results.
We never lost sight of the fact that maritime security is a critical element of collective human security and is fundamentally linked to the development and economic prosperity of our country and region. It is pivotal for the development of our Blue Economy. With that said, an integral part of our Blue Economy is of course our fisheries.
IUU fishing is a concern of ours as it is for any nation with an expanse of water. Quite recently we detained and are currently investigating 4 vessels for suspicion of illegal fishing in our waters. IUU fishing and its ramifications for any state not to mention small island developing states must not be underestimated. Seychelles loses much when such activities occur. Thanks in part to improved maritime domain awareness, we can act faster to deter and protect our fish stocks from illegal fishing.
The recipe to this success story is not difficult to replicate. It needs the will and determination to see it through. With that said it is important at this stage to ask that our partners from the EU reconsider their announced decision that would see the EUNAVFOR ATALANTA operation come to an end in 2016. We of course understand the constraints being felt currently in the European Union. However it is our firm belief that a total withdrawal in 2016 would leave a vacuum not easily replaced and with current events as they are, their departure would leave us all exposed. Piracy is not gone in its entirety Ladies and Gentlemen. It is still there, probing, waiting and planning. And between the gaps? Transnational organized criminal gangs and terrorist groups are all betting that instability and lack of capacity to respond will be to their benefit.
I trust that through the deliberations over today and tomorrow, we will recognize the correct steps and responses which brought us to this point. And as we move forward, that we solidify this approach in other regions where needed so that by our continued efforts, peace, stability and prosperity for all, can be achieved.