Seychelles Coast Guard: Future Plans for New Surveillance Assets
East African nations have a significant challenge ahead. The past few years have seen an encouraging decline in the volume of maritime piracy incidents that once dominated headlines with tales of hostage taking and freight ship hijacking, particularly in the Gulf of Aden and further south into the Somali Basin.
That success however has spurred a downscaling of international military task force activity. NATO Operation Ocean Shield and EUNAVFOR’s Operation ATALANTA are both still in operation in these waters, but resourcing and priorities will undergo review with the knowledge that African nations in the region are improving their own capabilities to police the area. Somalia, for example, now has its own Coast Guard and its personnel have trained alongside NATO forces.
Economies on the Continent are also growing in economic strength, allowing for defence budgets to grow and for the procurement of higher-end patrol ships and maritime security systems. Meanwhile,maritime threats have risen in West Africa, owing largely to the trafficking of narcotics from South America and using Africa as a cocaine gateway to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. These circumstances seem to collectively invite a „passing of the torch‟ for East African states to take the lead in stamping out illicit sea-borne activity in their own backyards. As such, there are rumblings that the East African threat may rise again should a coordinated and concerted effort not be effectively established – and quickly. The new landscape for the East not only sees a narcotics trade ready to boil over, but a renewed spike in terrorist activity, bled in from the newly coordinated insurgency self-styled as the Islamic State (ISIL). Money is the bottom line. Affiliates and franchises of both ISIL and Al Qaeda have a re-growing market: funding terrorism through organised criminal activity and profiting from their work.
Whether that activity involves kidnap and ransom, trading ivory or endangered species, capitalising from slavery or providing transit for the drug trade, these crimes are set to exasperate all nations with a presence in the Indian Ocean.
For the Seychelles, protecting its 155 islands and an EEZ of 1.2 million square kilometres is paramount. Not only does the country rely heavily on the waters for its economic stability, its need to project a safe environment is vital in keeping its thriving tourist industry alive. In this endeavour, the Seychelles Coast Guard (SCG), a branch of the Seychelles People‟s Defence Force (SPDF), provides the long blue line.
“Currently, the main threats affecting the Seychelles are illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, alongside piracy that has been a problem for at least the past five to six years.” said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Rosette, Deputy Chief of Staff of the SPDF. “There are now also emerging threats,
primarily in the form of narcotic trafficking coming along from the Makran coast, down to the Eastern Africa region, and some being transferred to Seychelles. We have small arms trafficking within the region, which has not really affected Seychelles but it poses a threat for the future to Seychelles. We have also had to deal with human trafficking.”
Recently, the Coast Guard has conducted three successful and notable operations. This involved the release of three groups of fishermen whose boats had been hijacked and who had been taken hostage by Somali pirates. These operations were done in conjunction with the Seychelles Special Forces.
If the effort that has gone into counter-piracy in the regiongoes down,” Rosette said,“meaning that if we reduce the amount of warships patrolling the area, we are reducing the amount of armed security on board vessels and would expect the disturbances may rise again. Until now, the problem ashore in Somalia has not been tackled properly. The problem remains volatile there because the people who were involved in piracy are still lying in wait for us to let our guard down.”
This past June, the service formally received and commissioned into service its new Type 62 patrol boat, named Etoile. Donated by the Chinese government, the vessel is considered state-of-the-art, measuring in at 38.78 m long with a displacement of 135 tonnes. Etoile has a cruising speed of 16 kt, a top speed of 26 kt, and is equipped with one 6.5 m, 30 kt rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) that has a GPS plotter and depth sounder. In terms of armament, the boat offers a forward 30mm gun and two pintle-mounted 12.7 mm heavy machine guns mounted amidships behind the pilothouse.
“To patrol the area and to effectively monitor and see what is going on, we need assets,” Rosette explains. “Mainly, these are vessels, aircraft and other means to collect information and to be able to react in an appropriate manner within a time limit to prevent illegal activities ongoing in our region. Thislatest patrol vessel involved us working with the Southern China shipyard to build and adapt it specifically for the needs of the Seychelles. It has an autonomy of seven days at sea and a crew of 21, so we can at least stay out at sea for a number of days and conduct our protection of the EEZ. Throughout the process of bringing this vessel into service, we’ve been in communication with the authorities in China to ensure that whatever they built and designed was suited for us.”
With the Etoile now active, the question centres on what other equipment is under consideration for procurement as the next few uncertain years approach.
“We are looking for new technology,” Rosette confirms. “Currently in terms of vessels,we will be soon acquiring one more patrol vessel, the same type as Topaz [Trinkat-class] which is built in India. As it will be the same as the one we have, it will be easy for us to adapt and operate. In the longer term, we are also working on a radar project for some of our remote outer islands. We will be installing at least five more radars along the islands so that we have a chain of radar to cover most of the approaches. Currently we have three such radars in operation which cover the main island, Mahe. Now it‟s a case of broadening our coverage. We also operate three aircraft for patrolling and this is another area – although we haven’t made an official decision yet – that we might be looking into in order to have more aerial coverage in the future. In terms of personnel, as we get more equipment, there is a need to have more personnel, so that’s the longer term plan. It’s an open market.”
Given the nature of the ocean and the fact that the sources of disturbance can fall along any neighbouring nations, efforts are continuously being focused on strengthening regional partnerships, including cooperation on what can be done when it comes to transitioning authority to land, where maritime piracy is ultimately rooted.
“Our armed forces must be able to operate on land at sea at the same time. That’s why we have created this Special Forces unit to assist the Coast Guard. In terms of regional cooperation, there are quite a
number of projects taking place, including our ties with the Indian Ocean Commission which comprises of Seychelles,Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar and Réunion. We work a lot with them in terms of fisheries protection and have established a regional fisheries patrol to which we all contribute.
“In line with that level of pooling resources, we are working with the European Union for the MARS [maritime network] project, of which Component 4 and 5 will initially provide some funding to conduct regional patrol. This is still in an early stage and we are working with all the partners involved in the East African region. Some of the countries within the region have, of course, very limited assets so that‟s why we have to first undertake an audit and see what resources are available before we launch operations.”
The Seychelles is also a member of the Combined Maritime Force (CMF) – based in Bahrain, with a liaison officer coordinating efforts among all three task forces – and the East African Standby Force (ESF). Other international partners, like France and the United States, are also frequent partners in operations and training exercises.
Of particular note is the Seychelles‟ involvement in the Djibouti Code of Conduct, and its recent work to exchange information and intelligence with other signatories.
“Across this region,” Rosette said, “we have various cultures and various types of different systems in place. This does pose a barrier for cooperation but I think in the longer term we have to continue sitting down and talking to find a common solution.
“Sharing information and intelligence is vital to making our region safer and better for the future. There‟s a lot of potential within the region, a lot of resources that exist that could be exploited in a more effective way for the benefit of all. These are the sort of things that we are hoping to see discussed at the AFSEC conference.”
Source: African Security