A Pirate's Prison Tucked Inside Seychelles Paradise

A rare visit to a location deep inside the tropical forest of Mahé, in the Seychelles archipelago, where a prison has been established to hold the captured Somali pirates wreaking havoc in the Indian Ocean. Once captured - and land-locked - the pirates ch

In the Indian Ocean, American Navy troops take suspected pirates into custody (US Navy)
In the Indian Ocean, American Navy troops take suspected pirates into custody (US Navy)
Paolo Colonnello

MAHÉ -- Along the granite mountain covered by tropical vegetation, the steep path leads to a courtyard surrounded by three warehouses and a light grey building overlooking the sea. All around this one sqaure-kilometer facility are tall wire fences, watchtowers, and armed men. Welcome to the pirate prison of Mahé, where sea-faring criminals are being held in the middle of the forest of the Seychelles islands.

When we arrived, the accused Somali pirates -- Jahamal, Shaif, Mohamed, each in their early 20s – were eating lunch. They wore blue detainee uniforms. "But we are all fishermen," they said with a laugh. These young men have been convicted without even know their sentences.

Maxim Tirent, the 56-year-old French-born director of the prison, explains that the inmates have been brought here from all over the Indian Ocean. "By now, there are too many," he says. "Once they are identified with pictures and fingerprints, some are just waiting to be repatriated."

The most recent arrivals were seized three weeks ago by a British Navy frigate, which left them on the island. "When they are at sea, they are fearless and arrogant, but here they behave well," explains Tirent. "They are submissive and quiet. They spend their days working to fix the streets, or praying. They've never caused any troubles."

Currently, the prison holds some 500 detainees, including many accused of drug-related crimes. Among the total prison population, there are currently 88 wanted for acts of piracy, many from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. The Seychelles has become a strategic international outpost against rising piracy in the Indian Ocean. It is the hidden side of this tropical haven, which is beloved by tourists for its natural preserves and beautiful beaches.

Piracy has become a scourge for international commercial interests. Salvatore Puma, the Italian general manager of the exclusive resort Constance Ephelia of Mahé, said that during last Christmas vacation the local hotels "could not serve fish, because the fishermen refused to go out to sea, too afraid of being attacked."

Slums at sea

The pirates always follow the same approach. They embark on a big boat that carries four or five small speedboats tied to each other, able to launch an attack once their prey is spotted.

Mogadishu pirates are young, fierce and resolute. Often they are tied to paramilitary groups, allegedly funded by terrorist organizations that provide them with weapons. Piracy of the 21st century is anything but romantic, manned by young thugs ready for violence if necessary, as there are in every slum in the world. They are recruited from the poorest of African cities, among those desperate enough to spend days in the middle of the ocean, to kidnap and rape just for a stereo or a cell phone.

The other day, in the tourist harbor of Mahé, two repairmen of Technofluid seacraft arrived from Sicily in order to fix two speedboats stolen by Somali pirates. The boats had been riddled with bullets, their stereos, televisions and computers stripped away, chairs and couches torn out. "It is just vandalism," said Giuseppe, the owner of the company. He was able to get back the boats and their kidnapped crews after one full year of negotiation, which ended with a ransom payment.

The war against piracy is a priority for Seychelles islands. Local newspapers write about it every day. "We estimate that piracy costs between $7 and 12 million a year to the international community," the country's president, James Michel, told the weekly magazine Vioas. "The pirates cost 4% of the Seychelles GDP, including direct and indirect costs for the loss of boats, fishing, and tourism, and the indirect investment for the maritime security." He added that between 2008 and 2009, local fishing – one of the country's main national resources – had suffered a 46% loss.

So far, tourism has not suffered too much. Still, the government had to forbid speedboats from travelling between the different islands of the archipelago.

In the last two years, though, help has arrived from abroad. The Arab Emirates sent five patrol boats, the United States gave a drone, China offered two patrol planes, Luxemburg provided a speedboat, and Italy continues to send more and more Navy boats to patrol the coasts. Still, Michel says it's not enough. "The violence of the attacks has increased," he told the interviewer. "By now, we are sure that the line between piracy and terrorism is blurred."

Read the original article in Italian

photo - US Navy

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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