The first case against alleged Somali pirates is now in court in the Seychelles capital of Victoria, when 11 of them were charged under the country’s laws against piracy and terrorism. This correspondent has regularly termed the pirates as ocean terrorists and maintains, in the face of now dwindling opposition to the use of this phrase, that elements linked to Somalia’s militant Islamic fundamentalists are in fact, or already have, infiltrated the pirates’ ranks with their own agenda at the forefront, posing added dangers to shipping through the Gulf of Aden, around the Horn of Africa, and along the Eastern seaboard of Africa.
If found guilty on all charges laid against them, the 11 could face terms up to life imprisonment, but at the very least 7 years. Friendly countries have boosted the Seychelles coast guard capacity for surveillance and to defend their territorial waters, have stationed fixed wing aircraft and UAVs on the island, which greatly assists in monitoring movements of suspected mother ships from where attacks on cargo vessels are normally launched. In addition, the Seychelles were given grants to expand their prison and jail holding facilities, and with changes to the respective laws underway through the parliament in Victoria, it is expected that more suspects will be brought to court there and successfully prosecuted.
Of late, a trend has been observed that the naval coalition is pursuing a harder line against the menace, as several reports reached in recent days and weeks that suspected motherships were stopped, searched, and sunk with little ado, throwing the gauntlet to the pirates by basically telling them, you leave your territorial waters, you look like pirates, you act like pirates, you very likely are, so expect to be engaged forthwith. Suspects caught in such raids are then delivered into the legal systems of the Seychelles and Kenya, where only a week ago eight pirates were convicted in a Mombasa court and sentenced to 20 years in prison, after which they will be deported back to Somalia. The convicts could, in fact, have faced life imprisonment under the law and were lucky to get away with 20 years only. These latest convicts join a number of others also convicted in recent months, and while members of the naval coalition are assisting Kenya and the Seychelles with grants and other assistance, this will still be cheaper, and likely more effective, than processing piracy suspects through the legal systems of those countries, which navy had arrested them.
Robust approaches of this nature, both at sea and through the courts, will act as a further deterrent and if the African Union’s calls for an air and sea embargo against Somalia are successful, there may at last be a glimmer of hope to bring the menace, also known as the “problem from hell”under better control.
The minister in the Seychelles government in charge of anti-piracy affairs and coordination, the Hon. Joel Morgan, has also in an interview recently outlined added measures the government there has taken and intends to take further to prevent pirates from entering the country’s vast economic exclusion zone, which exceeds the size of western Europe, considering the distances between the archipelago’s various island groups and stressed his government’s continued commitment to work hand in hand with friendly countries of the naval coalition to assist in patrolling and making secure the waters around the archipelago.
For the Seychelles, this development is a vindication of sorts, following nasty press reports in the past about the “pirate paradise,” which were, however, found to be both baseless in fact, as well as inspired by hidden agendas of those media houses willingly publishing such rubbish. Suggested one regular reader to this correspondent following some mention of the case in an earlier article: “…You know what I think, the guys writing such stuff were probably trying it on to get a first class, all-paid for trip to the Seychelles, red carpet and all, and when that failed, they simply took it out on them by writing what they did.”