Britain's anti-piracy 'conveyor belt' stretches from Somalia to Seychelles and back

Near the top of the highest peak in the Seychelles, with views of the azure Indian Ocean and miles of white-sand beaches, stands a small single-storey prison that is now a far-flung outpost of Britain’s lead role prosecuting Somalia’s pirates.
Within the walls of Montagne Possé, six officers from Her Majesty’s Prison Service are helping to guard 88 men accused of robbery on the high seas.
The prison’s British deputy-superintendent, Will Thurbin, was, until a little over a year ago, Governor of HMP Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight.
Down off the mountain in the archipelago’s capital, two lawyers on secondment from the Crown Prosecution Service in London handle all pirate trials on behalf of the Seychelles’ attorney-general.
More than 5,000 miles from home, these six men and three women are part of a British-funded “conveyor belt” that sees pirates arrested by the Royal Navy, guarded by British prison officers, tried by CPS prosecutors and sentenced to prisons built with British money. Britain has also paid for sophisticated new surveillance equipment for the country’s coast guard and even the Seychellois Police sniffer dogs were trained in Surrey.
Britain has already spent £9 million – more than any other nation, and a quarter of all United Nations Indian Ocean counter-piracy funds – to train prison staff, help upgrade cells or build new prisons, and to improve local lawyers’ expertise in the Seychelles, Somalia and Kenya.
That funding is necessary because under European human rights law and international legal standards, pirates arrested at sea must be transferred to countries that will give them a fair trial and house them in decent prisons.
Without the improvements, existing facilities will become swamped and suspected pirates would simply be released back to Somalia, reinforcing what one British diplomat in the region called “their sense of invulnerability”.
Joel Morgan, the Seychelles’ home affairs minister, told The Daily Telegraph that Britain’s role in helping his country combat piracy was “very significant”. A new intelligence-sharing scheme was agreed yesterday between the two countries, named RAPPICC.
“That came about thanks principally to Britain, and other countries must now make their efforts to join into the scheme so that it truly can achieve the goals it has set out,” he said. “The UK has been a very strong partner in the whole process from our point of view and the British government, its military and its High Commission here have all been exemplary in the way they have come to help.”
Almost a fifth of the 500 prisoners being held at Montagne Possé in the Seychelles are Somali pirates, either awaiting trial or already serving their sentences.
For Mr Thurbin, Britain’s lead role in bringing Indian Ocean prisons up to international standards is “wise economics”.
“It’s that discussion, what is prison for, and for me whether you are a Somali, a Seychellois, or you’re in Britain, it’s about rehabilitation,” hesaid.
“The public perception of pirates is quite often lock them up and throw away the key. The reality is that at some point this person will be back on the streets, or on the seas, again. My argument is, while I’ve got a captive audience, I work with them to help them better themselves so that when they are released, they are less of a risk to the public.”
Michael Mulkerrins, one of the two CPS lawyers assigned to the Seychelles, said the mentoring and expertise brought by he and his colleague, Charlie Brown, would allow more prosecutions in the future. “By having us here, I think we can say that the Seychelles will now and in the future have a great deal more confidence to take on more pirate cases,” he said.
A key barrier to that, however, has been the lack of prison facilities in Somalia itself. Facilities in the Seychelles and Kenya are already full, and both are struggling to take any more than a trickle of newly arrested pirates.
But a new prison built by the UN and with £600,000 of British money will open next year in the central Somali town of Garowe, in the country’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland. It will house up to 500 convicted pirates.
Major upgrades to prisons in Hargeisa, in Somaliland, and Bossaso, in Puntland – both more than half funded by Britain – will also soon begin taking prisoners transferred from the Seychelles.
This will allow the Seychelles, for example, breathing space to refocus on what Mr Morgan called “pirate king-pins”.
The support of Britain and other countries for counter-piracy projects, including funding prosecution and imprisonment, was “critical”, said Alan Cole, head of the UNODC’s office in Nairobi. “It gives the international community the ability to say there is no impunity for pirates, that arrest and prosecutions will continue, and that they will ensure Somalia is assisted to play its part in that process,” he said.