Heroin drug traffickers arrested in the Seychelles Waters in October 2022. (Seychelles Defence Forces)
The Seychelles National Assembly ratified an agreement with the European Union that will allow persons arrested for drug and weapons trafficking off the coast of Somalia by a member state of the EU, to be tried, prosecuted and imprisoned in Seychelles.
The motion for the Assembly to ratify the agreement signed by Seychelles on August 3, was brought forth on Wednesday by the Leader of Government Business, Bernard Georges.
Seventeen members of the National Assembly voted for the ratification and nine members abstained.
In an overview of the agreement, the director general for regional affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Christian Faure, said that it was initiated by the EU NAVFOR Somalia Operation Atalanta.
The mission was deployed in 2008 to counter-piracy military operation at sea off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean.
“As piracy has been suppressed, we are seeing new emerging issues post piracy like the rise in drug trafficking and elements of arms so when we made several meetings on maritime security we realised that we must now look beyond piracy and at the emerging threats in a more holistic and more comprehensive manner,” Faure explained.
He said that the EU on its side readjusted the mandate of Operation Atalanta to operate more in the Indian Ocean region and look at the emerging threats specifically drugs and weapons trafficking.
“So we entered into a negotiation to conclude this agreement that will allow Operation Atalanta to catch the drug and weapons traffickers and hand over to Seychelles. We will provide the legal finish, which will involve prosecution and imprisonment,” he added.
The Minister for Internal Affairs, Errol Fonseka said that Seychelles “is using the opportunity to use this deployment of the various maritime assets that we don’t have to cover the area space not just for our own Exclusive Economic Zone but also outside of it.”
Seychelles, a group of 115 islands spread over an Exclusive Economic Zone of 1.4 million square kilometres, finds it difficult to deter and suppress illegal activities at sea, due to its immense maritime space.
Fonseka said that this agreement “will allow us to use these EU assets that we can authorise to have operations in our territorial waters for both Seychelles flagged vessel and for non-Seychelles flagged vessel with a Seychellois onboard with no cost to us at all.”
He said that these operations are already being controlled by the Seychelles Regional Centre for Operation Coordination (RCOC) at Bois De Rose.
Questions were raised on the capacity of Seychelles to do the legal finish once prisoners have been arrested.
George Thachett, principal state counsel, said, “Once this agreement is ratified we may need to amend certain laws namely the Misuse of Drugs Act and Firearms and Ammunition Act that will the Seychelles judiciousness to trial such cases. There is already a provision for the Attorney General to review the files provided to us to see the sufficiency of evidence. There is also a right that Seychelles can at any time decide not to prosecute any transferred prisoner.”
Thachett added that “from our experience in dealing with the pirates, we are sure that we can cover this one for the legal finish.”
As for the incarceration of the prisoners, they are expected to be located on Marie-Louise, an island located 310 kilometres from the main island of Mahe. A prison facility built on the island in 2012 to house convicted drug traffickers closed down in September 2017.
Fonseka said that the whole operation will be funded by the EU.
“This operation is similar to the MASE programme (Maritime Security in the Eastern and Southern Africa and Indian Ocean Region), where all the costs of our operations sanctioned by the EU are covered. Initially, we have been given an advance of €1.5 million for the facilitation, like enhancing our legal areas. It will be under another part of the agreement called the management of the programme,” said Fonseka.