‘UK Navy in town as anti-piracy efforts increase’


02-November-2011

Mr ForbesTwo UK prosecutors are also working at the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute piracy and other serious crime cases. In the following opinion piece, British High Commissioner Matthew Forbes explains why fighting piracy is such a priority for the UK, Seychelles and international community.

Piracy is a serious threat to this country, which relies on tourism and fishing so heavily; it is a threat to innocent seafarers and it is a threat to the world’s economy.  It is a threat that no one can afford to ignore.  People often ask me if Seychelles’ positive role in the fight against piracy makes the country a target. I think the answer is clear. Pirates are motivated by greed alone and prey on the vulnerability of their victims. Their concern is about money and not the desire to target a country because they work with the international community. The best defence in these circumstances is to be prepared. This is why the UK, Seychelles and wider international community are doing so much in partnership, to tackle piracy, and I truly believe that Seychelles is stronger because of it.

Imagine a situation where this cooperation might not have materialised.  No coalition warships, no aircover, no support, no equipment nor training for the Coast Guard; Seychelles would be far more vulnerable.  This country is much better prepared today than it was two years ago.  I have seen many delegations from other countries visit here and they are impressed. However, it is not possible to stop all the pirates and we need to do more, not just capturing them but tackling the organisers, something the Seychelles Government advocates strongly and the UK fully supports.

Officers from the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency are in Seychelles to discuss the establishment of a new maritime intelligence and information coordination centre, announced earlier this month by the UK Government’s Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham.  The objective will be to bring military and law enforcement capabilities from various countries together under one roof for the first time in this region.  The coordination centre will facilitate the tracking of pirates and the organisation of enforcement action against pirate financiers and leaders. We must cut off the supply of money and weapons that fuels piracy.  

For now, our forces continue to tackle pirate gangs directly at sea. You will no doubt notice if you are in Mahé, that Victoria’s port is busy. For the first time, certainly since I have been here, we are hosting two British warships at the same time; HMS Somerset and RFA Fort Victoria. These ships are here for a well earned port call after a busy few weeks at sea with Fort Victoria rescuing an Italian ship which had been taken by pirates and HMS Somerset capturing an armed pirate group at sea. Now in Seychelles, the ships will separately meet with various Seychelles government and military representatives. Members of HMS Somerset’s crew will also join Nature Seychelles for a day to help them on their nature reserve. The active presence of these vessels in the Indian Ocean helps not only to deter pirates and protect the world's merchant marine communities, but also ensures that World Food Programme aid reaches countries where it is badly needed and where people’s very survival may depend upon it. This is another reason why we cannot afford to be complacent.

I talk to many ship captains when they call and they all say how frustrating it is, when on occasion, they have had to release pirates because of insufficient facilities to prosecute them. The Seychelles is not only an important port and airport in the fight against the pirates, but it has stood up and prosecuted them as well.  This act of support has won praise from across the globe.  I know that some people here were worried that the Seychelles might be used as a dumping ground for pirate prisoners, but we have always been conscious of Seychelles’ capacity to hold pirates.  We work closely with the Seychelles Government to ensure that the system is not overloaded, that effective support is provided and that a longer term solution to detention is achieved.  Convicted Somali pirates belong in Somali prisons and we will continue to push to make this a reality in the near future.  

Last year, the UK seconded a lawyer from the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to Seychelles to support the Attorney General’s office and help prosecute piracy cases. This effort has been boosted by the recent arrival of a second CPS lawyer who will also be attached to the Attorney General’s office. The main focus of work will be piracy but both lawyers will also lend their expertise to other cases of serious crime, such as murder and drug offences.  Support, training and advice have also been provided to the judiciary and the Seychelles Police Force by the UK police and UNODC to help ensure that strong cases are put together. At the time of writing, Montagne Posée prison is hosting three prison officers from prisons in the UK as part of an exchange, and three officers from Seychelles are currently in the UK. The aim of this project is to share best practice, and learn from the experience of working in different prison environments, to apply new practices and techniques.   It is clear to me that anti-piracy project work is of benefit to the entire Seychelles’ criminal justice system

The Seychelles did not ask for the piracy problem but it has realised that it cannot ignore it and that it is stronger standing together with its friends.  No one escapes some responsibility for solving this problem. The world's merchant marine communities must do their bit, and are doing so, to better protect their vessels. The nations with blue water military capability are doing their bit to ensure World Food Programme aid reaches those who need it and are protecting merchant vessels and local maritime trade at the same time as deterring and disrupting the pirates.  We all have our part to play.
 

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