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The Seychelles Coast Guard vessel Topaz arrives in the local capital of Victoria in 2010 after freeing six fishermen who had been taken hostage by Somali pirates.
The Seychelles Coast Guard vessel Topaz arrives in the local capital of Victoria in 2010 after freeing six fishermen who had been taken hostage by Somali pirates.

UAE aiding the fight against pirates

The Emirates Effect: The new Coast Guard base in Seychelles has been paid for by the Emirati government who have also provided five more vessels to protect shipping in the Indian Ocean from attacks by Somali pirates.

ABU DHABI // When the UAE-funded Coast Guard base opened at Ile Perseverance in Seychelles in November last year, officials from both countries applauded the nations' "mighty wall of friendship".

The Dh55 million, 30,000 square -metre base comes complete with sophisticated coastal radar surveillance systems and a helipad, and took just a year to build.

It was the Emirates' gift to a nation which has struggled with a growing Somali pirates problem.

The UAE's funds also purchased five patrol ships, doubling Seychelles' fleet.

"We are a small country with limited resources," said Dick Esparon, the ambassador of Seychelles to the UAE. "We appreciate our brother helping us to tackle the scourge of piracy."

The Republic of Seychelles, a 115-island archipelago north-east of Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean, whose economy is primarily driven by tourism and fishing, has been particularly hard hit by piracy in the region.

All maritime tourism activities - including cruise ships and catamaran rentals - are restricted to the inner islands because of the risk of piracy. The resulting added costs of freight and insurance have caused the prices of imported food and fuel to skyrocket.

Seychelles officials estimate the country lost 8m (Dh37m) in tourism revenue and 4.1m from fisheries in 2008 and 2009 because of piracy.

Joel Morgan, the nation's minister of home affairs, environment, transport and energy, and the chairman of the high level committee on piracy, said Seychelles has failed to capitalise on economic opportunities because of the threat of piracy.

"The cost of the defensive measures Seychelles has had to take are more than US$5m per year - money that could have been used to further invest in education, health and social development," Mr Morgan said in London in February.

In 2009, when attacks in Seychelles sea territory began to escalate, 10 vessels were hijacked and 10 Seychellois were captured.

Since 2010, four fishing boats have been hijacked, with three rescued by military intervention.

Mr Esparon said the new Coast Guard base's cutting-edge technology would allow Seychelles to closely monitor the traffic in its waters and more easily respond to calls for assistance.

"We will be able to give valuable information to the ships passing through our waters," the ambassador said. "This is critical, because, most of the time, hijacking happens because of a lack of information-sharing.

"Seychelles would like to position itself as the hub in terms of gathering and disseminating information dealing with piracy in the Indian Ocean."

Mr Esparon said it was premature to discuss future collaborations with the UAE, which has had strong diplomatic relations with his country since 1984. The two nations are teaming up on training of military personnel and efforts on the ground in Somalia to attack the root causes of piracy.

"Be assured that we have a concrete and elaborate plan in terms of how to deal with piracy - we know we have to be better prepared than they are," he said.

The base is just one example of the extensive foreign aid and other support the UAE has heaped upon Seychelles. In 2010, the UAE gave Dh64.1m to the republic, the 10th largest recipient of foreign aid funds that year.

Nearly all was in the form of a government grant for general budget support. Another Dh33.1m was given to Seychelles for infrastructure development by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.

The Khalifa Foundation also donated Dh60,000 for charitable purposes in 2010.

Seychelles and the UAE share an extraordinarily close bond. Seychelles has only eight embassies in the world, and one of them is in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE, has recently completed a seven-storey palace on Seychelles' largest island, Mahe.

jthomas@thenational.ae

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