Ladies and gentlemen, may I begin by saying that it is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to address you today.
Long before the islands, which we today know as Seychelles, were discovered or settled by those who crossed the oceans to reach those island shores; India, and the influence she cast over the Indian Ocean as sailing ships set sail from her bountiful coasts, trading with many nations, was well known and respected. The ocean then as it does today provided the peoples of India with a means to trade and flourish as from about the third millennium before the Common Era.
Fast forwarding from that era and then onto the various remarkable periods in history to the present day, we have seen and appreciated what India has been able to accomplish and how today, she still exerts a great influence over our common ocean, the Indian Ocean. Being a small island state surrounded by a vast ocean, the sea is of vital importance to us for our livelihood and for our economy. Our trade with the rest of the world flourishes mainly through Port Victoria on the principal island of Mahe, with Port Victoria being some 2000 nautical miles from the Port of Mumbai. Port Victoria is our own ocean gateway for ships sailing from all points within the region and beyond.
The Seychelles, even if it is today classified as a high income status nation, remains nevertheless a vulnerable small island developing state, exposed to external threats such as those posed by maritime insecurity and climate change impacts to name but two.
We acknowledge that without open and secure sea routes, without trade by merchant ships calling to our islands, our vision of developing our country further would be severely hampered. The successes which we are enjoying today however could have been wiped out altogether had not been for a steady resolve and focused response when threats such as that of piracy did arise.
It is an opportune moment to state here that we welcome Prime Minister Modi’s doctrine on the Indian Ocean and his 5 declared principles. Those are: defending one’s territories, deepening security cooperation with regional partners, building multilateral cooperative maritime security in the Indian Ocean, sustainable economic development and extending cooperation with other major powers, all of which offer an opportunity for the sustained and peaceful growth in the Indian Ocean.
As I have stated, safety and security on our ocean goes hand in hand with economic development and with that, human progress. Domain awareness and maritime security is an important element for a successful maritime trade industry. This is why when representing President Michel at the 2nd London Conference on Somalia on 7th May 2013 as Home Affairs and Transport Minister I said, “Seychelles wishes to see peace and security restored in Somalia. This is because peace and security in Africa are inextricably linked to long lasting peace and stability in Somalia. Africa’s security, stability and prosperity are inextricably linked to that of the world.”
At that time ladies and gentlemen, the peace of the western Indian Ocean was being seriously compromised as a result of acts of piracy, acts that were impacting our economies, our trade, our people, and raising threat levels that impacted global trade in general negatively.
It is perhaps because of our own leadership and determination and recognition of that fact by members of the group, that the Seychelles in 2016 will take over as chair of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, CGPCS. Seychelles even as small as we are, recognized early on that we must work and encourage the development of Somalia as a peaceful and stable nation. Without peace on land there could be no expectation of peace on the high seas. Today thanks in part to the international community and to key partners such as India in the region, peace in Somalia is being achieved, step by step. As peace returns to Somalia and with it opportunities, so to must we within the region seek opportunities to address measures which had been put in place to safeguard shipping such as High Risk Areas.
High Risk Areas definitions as we know were instrumental in staving off piracy, and permitted ships to transit certain areas under strict security protocols. Today as we see the threat of piracy diminish, we must continue the discussions and consultations with all stake holders in assessing the current High Risk Areas that have been defined. The shipping industry in general and member states of the Contact Group on Piracy off of the Coast of Somalia coming together, should be able to arrive at a mutually agreed consensus on this issue. Seychelles will drive this agenda as it takes the Chairmanship of the Group.
We believe that to achieve long lasting maritime security in the region requires a cohesive transnational crime prevention approach and a response strategy that is focused on the rule of law.
A critical contributory factor in the emergence of Somali piracy was the absence of regional maritime domain awareness to tackle issues of piracy, IUU fisheries, drugs and arms trafficking and other maritime crimes such as human trafficking in the western Indian Ocean. The lack of regional maritime domain awareness capability further diluted the effectiveness of already limited national maritime resources seeking to improve maritime security in the region.
Another factor for consideration was that the organisers of piracy took advantage of weak institutions and the absence of the rule of law in Somalia to inflict fear and misery on the innocent seafarers of many states for profit and to launder their criminal proceeds inside and outside of the region. Their transnational crime groupings proliferated, taking advantage of increasing opportunities for travel, trade, informal rapid money movements and telecommunications. As a result we were and are increasingly challenged by criminal structures that span out into other countries in the region. Just as crime crosses borders, so must law enforcement. If the rule of law is undermined not only in one country, but in many, then those who defend it cannot limit themselves to purely national means.
Seychelles ladies and gentlemen is well on its way towards improving upon its maritime domain awareness capabilities, thanks again to the involvement and support given to date by India and some other key partners. It is therefore appropriate that we recognise today, the generosity of international donors and partners in building additional capacity within our maritime and criminal justice system and the efforts of international organisations such as UNODC, INTERPOL, EUNAVFOR, NATO, the Combined Maritime Forces, the Indian Ocean Commission, other regional and international partners and the government of the Republic of India, for it truly has been a transnational effort and a fine example of highly effective partnerships.
Ladies and gentlemen, every April 5th India celebrates its India National Maritime Day in recognition of a historic day when in 1919 an Indian ship of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company sailed to the United Kingdom. For India it was a continuation of a rich maritime history. Later India in her own right began to secure and safe guard her coast and by that her commerce by deploying ships of the Indian Navy. Since 1947, naval deployments have been made, a service to this day which reaches out to the region offering a hand of support and assistance.
In the Seychelles our own maritime security and the protection of ocean resources can be proudly linked to fraternal relations that exists between the Indian Navy and the Seychelles Coast Guards.
We note the numerous surveillance missions of the Indian Naval Ships within our EEZ, providing us with much needed assistance. Again this has in a positive way contributed to our own capabilities and the appreciation that we can further develop our maritime security that will enhance our ‘Blue Economy’. On the Prime Minister’s first and most recent visit to the Seychelles we note that the Prime Minister announced the donation of a second Dornier aircraft for maritime monitoring, signed an agreement for conducting hydrographic surveys, and launched a coastal surveillance radar project. All significant announcements and measures, which confirms again the strong ties between our two countries and the value placed on the Seychelles by India as a key partner in the western Indian Ocean.
India has been a true partner and friend of the Seychelles and has contributed much to the success we are experiencing today, this is without a doubt. Our technical cooperation with India means that Seychelles, adding to its positive engagements within the region and globally, can better manage and respond to threats to our maritime security. History it is certain will record this as being true.
Historical documents record that Dom Vasco de Gama became the first European in 1498 to land in India. On his journeys he also ‘found’ Seychelles. It is certain that the history and the links between Incredible India and Seychelles – Another World, is richer still then that. Ancient Gondwana linked our islands at one time to India and over the ages our lands drifted apart. However what we have studied in geography and the ‘drift’ apart of our lands is not reflected in the reality of how our two countries have developed our respective relationships.
The ‘Blue Economy’ links all regional states within this magnificent Indian Ocean. It is therefore imperative that even as we seek to maximize the potential of our ocean, that we as well consider and take note, that we can ill afford to degrade the environment of the ocean that we need to improve our economic fortunes, for country and for people. To do otherwise would degrade not only the viability of our ocean from the blue economy perspective, but would bring down the quality of the lives of the peoples within the region, and with that creating once again the possibility of insecurity.
That we are united today, working for a peaceful Indian Ocean, adds much to our relationship. That same relationship contributes to a maritime security posture that will ensure growth, stability and progress for our respective nations.
Ladies and Gentlemen in closing I can assure you that Seychelles will do its part within the limits of its capacity to safe-guard maritime security in our part of the Indian Ocean. In that regard, the Government of Seychlles is actively considering the invitation by the Indian Goverment to join the tripartite maritime security framework which encompasses India, Sri Lanka and the Malidives.
The valued assistance by the government of India in the field of maritime security is being put to good use for the protection of our common ocean and for the development of our common blue economies.
I thank you.