THE INCLUSION of armed personnel on board fishing, transport or even passenger ships as a means of combating piracy in the Indian Ocean had long been a heated debate between nations and within the maritime community, before European Union (EU) countries decided to post armed soldiers on board their tuna vessels operating in the region.
Hard hit by the piracy dilemma, it was not long before the Seychelles authorities and boat owners decided to protect our fishing industry in the same manner, with foreign military presence and later soldiers from the newly formed Seychelles Vessels‚Äô Protection Detachment (SVPD) under the command of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Transport.
The decision seems to have been a wise one as there has been no successful pirates‚Äô attack recorded on armed ships. The Seychelles Petroleum Company (Sepec), owner of a six-strong tanker fleet which now transports fuel around the world and which is also involved in high sea bunkering operations which consists of fuelling ships on some main maritime routes, has decided to follow the example. For the past four months, the company has contracted the services of ‚ÄòPioneer Risk‚Äô, a United Kingdom (UK) based maritime security consultancy company to align Sepec‚Äôs security procedures to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) standards, offer training and give security advice to an SVPD security team assigned to the company.
‚ÄòPioneer Risk‚Äô has also dispatched one of its experts, Buddy Wheatley, an ex-UK Special Forces officer to Seychelles and has also provided Sepec with security and medical equipment.
Commenting on the security measures, Sepec‚Äôs chief executive Conrad Benoiton said: ‚ÄúThe potential of being attacked is very high, especially when bunkering other vessels. Sepec has invested hugely in those tankers so we cannot simply let them go, as long as the legal framework and procedures under the international maritime laws are respected. Piracy is not a light matter, this is why our crew have been inducted and trained to protect our assets, save lives and also well document the post activity factor in view of eventual legal proceedings. Although we cannot altogether eradicate piracy, we have put together a system which will protect us.‚Äù
Sepec now seems ready to militarily protect its tankers from eventual pirate attacks as shown yesterday by a faked pirate attack and defence demonstration on board one of the tankers ‚Äì the Seychelles Paradise.
Commanding a 16-member crew of which only two are non-Seychellois, impressive 26-year-old captain Ricky Ernesta sailed a group of invitees which included journalists as well as representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Transport, the Seychelles People‚Äôs Defence Forces (SPDF), Seychelles Maritime Safety Administration (SMSA), the Seychelles Ports Authority and other Sepec partners north-east of Ste Anne island.
At the exact location of 4 degrees 35 south and 55 degrees 32 east, the Seychelles Paradise was ‚Äòattacked‚Äô by pirates armed with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades (RPG) on board a speed boat, and the crew and four armed men on board ‚Äòresponded‚Äô and foiled the attempt to board and take over the ship.
The demonstration showed operating procedures as part of a security plan applied upon the detection of a suspected vessel which goes from sending a distress call to attacking the enemy ship.
In case of casualties, the security team is also trained to provide medical assistance and evacuate wounded colleagues. They are also taught how to respond to military rescue.
Apart from posting military personal on its ships, Sepec is also currently securing its vessels by equipping them with more effective security features.