December 9, 2012:
Over the last year you stopped hearing about Somali pirates attacking ships off the Seychelles islands. That’s because in the last year the UAE (United Arab Emirates), India, and the United States have provided massive assistance to turn the Seychelles Coast Guard into a force that can quickly spot pirates and neutralize (capture or kill) them.
For example, last year India sent a Dornier 228 maritime reconnaissance aircraft to the Seychelles where it will serve at least two years. Two years ago India offered to give Seychelles a Dornier 228 and two Chetak helicopters for anti-piracy duty but tiny Seychelles preferred that India simply operate this equipment on their territory, until the Somali piracy threat is gone. India has already sent a naval patrol boat and one Chetak helicopter to the Seychelles to help with anti-piracy patrol. Indian warships are also coming by more frequently.
The UAE provided $15 million to build a new naval base for the coast guard and doubled the number of ships by sending two 30 meter (91 foot) patrol boats and three smaller speed boats. The 30 meter boats, although armed only with machine-guns, are fast enough and have sufficient firepower to handle any pirates they encounter. Last year there were several such bloody encounters and the Somali pirates decided that the Seychelles were no longer good hunting grounds.
The Seychelles islands have a total population of 85,000 and no military power to speak of. They were largely defenseless against pirates. So were many of the ships moving north and south off the East Coast of Africa. Four years ago Somali pirates began operating as far east as the Seychelles, which are a group of 115 islands 1,500 kilometers from the east African coast. India led the effort to upgrade Seychelles defenses because the Somali pirates are a threat to Indian shipping and the Seychelles are a neighbor it wants to remain on good terms with.
The U.S. is already operating Reaper UAVs and P-3 maritime patrol aircraft on the Seychelles, to search for Somali pirates operating in the area. The 4.7 ton Reaper has a wingspan of 21.2 meters (66 feet) and a normal payload of 1.7 tons. It has a max speed of 400 kilometers an hour but cruises at closer to 300. Reaper is considered a combat aircraft because it normally carries over a ton of bombs or missiles. This usually includes Hellfire missiles. By carrying no weapons at all, which is how the ones in the Seychelles will operate, they can stay in the air for over 24 hours at a time. The U.S. Air Force sent 75 airmen to the Seychelles to maintain the two or three Reapers that were based there. The operators, based in the United States, control the Reapers via a satellite link. This was the first time the Reaper was used for maritime reconnaissance. The manufacturer has been pushing the Reaper (which is three times heavier than the Predator) as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft, and this has been a realistic, and successful, test. A fully equipped, for maritime patrol, Reaper costs over $20 million each. Such a Reaper can spot ships below, night and day, and has cameras that can zoom in on any ship or speedboat for a detailed video close up. A more traditional P-3 maritime patrol aircraft can only stay in the air for half as long as a Reaper but carries more sensors and weapons. A P-3 also requires a larger ground crew and more maintenance after each flight.
India and the UAE also paid to expand the Seychelles radar system that now covers most of the coastal waters around the major islands as well as the key shipping lanes. This, plus the aerial reconnaissance and armed boats of the coast guard, make it suicidal for pirates to come near the Seychelles. This is very popular on the islands because the pirates were kidnapping Seychelles fishermen and scaring away the lucrative foreign tourists.