A dedicated maritime crime court in Seychelles was formally opened yesterday.
The two-storey annexe to Seychelles’ Supreme Court building on Île du Port – comprising two large courtrooms, detention cells, witness waiting area, judges’ chambers, and lawyers’ meeting rooms – will hear cases of piracy and maritime crime.
Funding was provided by the UK and Dutch governments and the trust fund of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.
Acting Chief Justice Durai Karunakaran said yesterday, “The opening of the Supreme Court annexe marks the culmination of steps taken over the past five years to establish Seychelles as a unique and leading jurisdiction for combating piracy in the region.”
In the four years since Seychelles updated its laws to enable prosecution of pirates caught on the high seas by third-party countries, it has conducted 16 piracy trials (another is in progress), prosecuted 142 suspects, jailed 138 of them for piracy offences, and repatriated 114 convicted pirates to serve sentences at United Nations-approved jails in Puntland and Somaliland.
José Vila del Castillo, eastern Africa representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said, “Seychelles has continued to play a vital role in combating maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia.”
UK high commissioner Lindsay Skoll added, “It is the tenacity and capability of Seychelles’ senior leadership which encouraged us to make [the construction of the court annexe] happen.”
But she warned, “Piracy emanating from Somalia might have been contained and its business model fractured, but it remains a threat that has not been eradicated.”
Last month, an Iranian fishing vessel was seized off the Somali coast and continued illegal and unregulated fishing in Somali waters continues to pose a threat to maritime order in the region.
The new annexe is likely to be used also to hear cases involving other forms of maritime crime, including drug smuggling. From 30 March to 1 April, UNODC held its first technical level meeting on Heroin Trafficking in the Maritime Domain under the newly established Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime (IOFMC).
The agency said that the discussions in Beau Vallon, Seychelles, focused on the southern maritime route for heroin trafficking and measures to counter the emerging threat.
Quoted in Seychelles Nation, home affairs minister Charles Bastienne said: “There is no doubt that it would be catastrophic if traffickers keep finding ways to ship large consignments of drugs in our region through our maritime routes, eventually reaching our shores.”
At a meeting of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) in Addis Ababa on 28 March, it was announced that Seychelles had agreed to host a European Union-funded operation co-ordination centre to oversee joint maritime operations in the western Indian Ocean.
The same meeting also agreed to establish a Maritime Information Fusion Centre in Madagascar. Together, the centres are expected to cost about USD40 million.