By: John Lablache and Wanjohi Kabukuru
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Japan and Seychelles covering the conditions of transfer of suspected pirates and seized property, was signed on Thursday in Indian Ocean island nation‚Äôs Port of Victoria.
The agreement was signed on board “Takanami” one of two Japanese naval ship docked in Port Victoria.
Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands with a population of some 90,000 people has placed itself at the forefront of the fight against piracy.
The MoU with Japan is the 13th such bilateral agreement on the conditions of transfer of suspected pirates that Seychelles has signed having previously done so with countries like France, Britain, Denmark, amongst others.
The latest agreement covers issues such as pirates capture by the Japanese Navy,¬†trial, possible conviction and repatriation to Somalia.
The Japanese Ambassador to Seychelles Tatsushi Terada said after the signing that piracy off the coast of Somalia posed a clear and present threat to the maritime shipping routes linking Asia, Africa and Europe.
“It goes without saying that the safety of navigation is vital for the prosperity of the international community as a whole, an in particular, island states which depend heavily on maritime trade,‚Äù¬†said Terada.
‚ÄúTherefore, it is natural for Japan and Seychelles to operate in their efforts to tackle piracy.‚Äù
The Seychelles Minister for Home Affairs and Transport, Joel Morgan said the MoU was ‚Äúanother step in the joint efforts of both countries in their fight against piracy.”
He noted that Seychelles’ economy is heavily dependent on the maritime sector as fisheries, trade and tourism are its key pillars.
“Peace in the western Indian Ocean, which is an important sea route is vital for world trade,” said Morgan.
He also noted that the MoU which builds on Japan‚Äôs new legislation which allows greater collaboration between the two island nations on human trafficking, international crimes and drug smuggling alongside piracy.
Recently Japan‚Äôs parliament enacted legislation that allowed the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) vessels to protect any ship from pirates regardless of its flag and criminalised piracy.
According to Terada, two JMSDF destroyers based in Djibouti in the horn of Africa region off the Gulf of Aden have been engaged in escort operations, protecting more than 3,600ships in 600 escort missions since 2009. Each destroyer has a crew of 200 and 20 officers.¬†¬†Complementing these destroyers are two maritime patrol aircraft‚Äôs based in Djibouti which have so far have clocked more than 1,200 mission flights.
Since 2009 Seychelles has been in the forefront combating piracy and has deployed the Seychelles Defence Forces (SPDF), coastguards, police, prison department and the judiciary to contain crime at sea.
Working in collaboration with international partners to apprehend and prosecute suspected Somali pirates has seen the island nation prosecute the largest number of Somali pirates between 2009 to 2013.
Seychelles Prisons Superintendent Maxime Tirant, who witnessed the signing, told SNA that the number of convicted Somali pirates at the main prison of Montagne Posee, now stands at 38 from a record peak of 120 in 2012.
16 are still on remand awaiting trial while the remaining number have already been sentenced and are awaiting transfer to either the Garowe (Puntland) and Hargeysa (Somaliland) prisons, two detention facilities built by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), as part of its Piracy Prisoner Transfer Programme.either of the two prisons in Puntland and Somaliland.
Piracy off the Somalia coast and the Gulf of Aden rose to an all-time high in 2009 when 117 ships were attacked. In 2010 there were 53 ship attacks and piracy incidents have continued to dwindle due to increased naval patrols and deterrence by ships’¬†¬†employing¬† self-protection measures.
Piracy has contributed to a rise in shipping costs and shipping insurance premiums as well as impeding the delivery of food aid shipments which has in turn increased the general cost of living in the region.