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New fishing opportunities in Seychelles are busting out all over. Would you believe that a third land-based operation is emerging there this coming season, plus two mothership operations? This flurry of activity is occurring despite a truly scary pirate incident not so long ago in that part of the world. Here’s a recap….

Until March of 2009, anglers headed to Seychelles had the choice of a land-based fishing operation on Alphonse Island, or several mothership-based fishing operations that explored waters surrounding various outer atolls of this island nation. That all changed in March of 2009 when one of the live-aboard craft, the Indian Ocean Explorer, was hijacked and later burned by Somali pirates. Though no clients or guides were aboard the IOE when she was captured (they had just disembarked when the hijacking occurred), the crew was held hostage for several months and released in what apparently amounted to a prisoner exchange.

The hijacking shut down all of the mothership operations and, for a while, that left only the land-based fishing on Alphonse Island. The current flurry of new activity began with the establishment of a new fishing opportunity based at the luxurious Desroches Island Resort. I reported on that opportunity last month. The other new land-based opportunity is one that is emerging on Farquhar Island. I’ll have more to say about that operation in a moment….

First, though, the blockbuster news for anglers interested in Seychelles is surprising word that mothership-based fishing will re-start this October with at least two different ships, each represented by well-respected booking agents. These two ships are the Indian Ocean Explorer II (the replacement for the burned IOE), which is owned by an international syndicate; and the Neptune Warrior, owned by a travel firm that specializes in Seychelles tourism. Both the IOE II and the Neptune Warrior are currently slated to carry anglers to the near-legendary fishing on the outer Seychelles atolls, including Cosmoledo and Providence. Both ships will use charter flights from Mahé to the airstrip on Assumption Island to ferry their clients to the motherships.

This is surprising news because these two ships are planning to operate in precisely the same area where the Indian Ocean Explorer was hijacked. The IOE was hijacked as she steamed away from Assumption after having just dropped off her fishing clients and guides from a trip to Cosmoledo.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, the piracy situation which shut down the fishery through the 2009/10 season continues to be a threat. A quick web search indicates that pirates indeed are still operating from the Somali coast and, in 2010, they are still targeting ships in the Indian Ocean near Seychelles. This is happening despite a multi-nation effort utilizing naval vessels, satellite surveillance and the use of both manned and unmanned aircraft. Right now, it appears that the areas surrounding Seychelles will remain quiet until September/October. Until then, the southeast monsoon which blows during this period creates rough seas that limit the effectiveness of the pirates and their small boats. After that, who knows? For a thorough look at the piracy situation in Seychelles and its impact on the individuals involved, I recommend the following article from the May 2010 issue of GQ: It’s must reading for anyone considering a mothership fishing trip this season.

I won’t try to improve on the reporting by GQ, but I did do some investigation of my own. That included exchanging some e-mails with a gentleman by the name of G. Savy of the Island Development Company. That company operates the air charters used by anglers to access the outer Seychelles islands. Apropos of the Seychelles government’s current posture toward piracy, he had this to say in one of his e-mails: “I do not believe that the Government has either canceled or reauthorized fishing around the Outer Island atolls at any time. I do not believe that a legal ban was ever put in place, or that the Government has declared any area safe or unsafe. As far as we know, persons willing to sail to and from the Outer Islands do so at their own risk.”

I went on to ask Peter McLeod of Aardvark McLeod what his view is of the security situation around the outer atolls. Aardvark McLeod is representing the Neptune Explorer. His reply:

“The Indian Ocean Explorer was taken at night, and, due to weather conditions, was traveling north, right on the edge of international waters on her way back to Mahe. She was a very long way from where she should have been. The crew were all returned unharmed and a number of them are now working on Neptune Warrior, including the captain.

“All boats registered or licensed in Seychelles are permitted to travel anywhere in Seychelles waters. It is recommended that boats have security personnel. Our Cosmoledo trips will have security on board at all times. A risk assessment performed by a reputable international security company, Kermeur (, has concluded that the risk of attack in the Aldabra region, specifically Cosmoledo and Astove, is low. In their conclusion, they approved the decision to take a security force on board and it was stated that this would bring the security level of the operation to a necessary level. According to official sources there has never been a successful piracy attack on a vessel with a security force onboard. The security personnel will be located on the upper deck in order not to interfere with the clients’ living space.

“In addition to the safety precautions undertaken by the Neptune Warrior, there are four drone planes based in Seychelles with a Swedish coast guard patrol plane. There are Seychelles, European, Japanese, Indian, American and Russian Coast Guard vessels in and around Seychelle’s waters at all times. There are also three major centers set up around the Indian Ocean (Seychelles, UAE and Tanzania) that collect and relay all information on potential piracy. The Seychelles Coast Guard has also just received their new aircraft to help in the fight against piracy. Neptune Warrior is equipped with VMS, a tracking device that can ensure early detection of suspicious activity.

“Although every possible step and measure has been undertaken to avoid acts of piracy, it remains a risk undertaken by each client on the trip. We strive to make every angler aware of the dangers in undertaking the trip and they must sign a terms and conditions and waiver of responsibility contract wherein all risks are explained to participants again….”

I put the same question about security to Olivier Lauzanne, one of the principals behind the IOE II. His reply:

“The Seychelles government lets us go to the outer islands at our own risk. The government doesn’t want to take any responsibility. We are pretty confident about security because the area is patrolled by the US and France and we are in direct contact with “Atalante Force” that informs all boats cruising in the area about suspicious vessels. No attack has yet happened within 70 nautical miles of an island. With good surveillance and precaution, we think things will be fine.

“The decisions and actions taken by the government (against piracy) seem to be efficient. The military forces based at Victoria are now able to locate the pirates when they enter Seychelles waters. (To be sure), there are still pirates in Seychelles territorial waters and there were two attacks in the south of the Seychelles in 2010. However, both took place more than 100 nautical miles from Cosmoledo. About 90 percent of piracy activity is located north of Mahé.

“If the IOE II encounters pirates, we will follow the best practices that have been defined by the maritime organizations, governments and insurers to prevent piracy – namely, a precise process of alert, escape and, if needed, the use of non-lethal equipment to defend ourselves. The main objective is to survey and alert well in advance to avoid hijacking altogether, or to gain time to be rescued. We will carry some specific anti-piracy equipment (maybe guns but we will not advertise this). We will have security personnel onboard mainly to survey and alert. They will be part of the crew.

“Personally, I’m very excited to fish an area that hasn’t seen a fly for over 18 months….”

I think it is worthy of note that FlyCastaway, previously one of the big players in Seychelles mothership fishing, is keeping its own vessel, the MV Maya’s Dugong, which it operates in partnership with Silhouette Cruises, away from Seychelles for the time being. Continuing subscribers will recall that it was this vessel’s narrow escape from a pirate attack as she was being brought to the Seychelles from Europe via the Suez Canal that prompted our first report on the potential threat of piracy to mothership operations in Seychelles and elsewhere (See Article No. 2258 in our Trip Planning Database).

Managing Director of FlyCastaway, Gerhard Laubscher, who, incidentally, was the last person off the Indian Ocean Explorer before she was hijacked, recently sent us his take on the security situation in Seychelles:

“There is no disputing that the remote outer atolls of Seychelles offer some of the finest flats fishing on the planet. The diversity of species, quality of the ecosystems and spectacular beauty make them any angler’s dream destination. We want to go back.

“Due to the ongoing threat of piracy in Seychelles waters, FlyCastaway had to cease all live-aboard trips to the outer atolls as of March 2009. Since then, we have monitored the piracy situation very closely in the hope that we would once again be able to safely operate our mothership trips to Cosmoledo and Providence. The Seychelles government has and is continuing to work towards stemming the flow of piracy in their vast territorial waters. This is a mammoth task and easier said than done.

“We do not feel it is worth exposing our guests and staff to this potential threat. If a trip were to go ahead and there was an attack, the long-term effect could be catastrophic on the Seychelles economy and the industry as a whole. Frustrating as this might be, we feel the most responsible decision is to remain cautious and not offer any outer-atoll mothership trips on the Maya’s Dugong and other vessels we work with until we have received the ‘all clear’ from relevant authorities. Once we get the go ahead from the Seychelles government we will be ready to operate immediately. Our infrastructure remains in place and ready to go, as it has never been our intention to leave the waters of the Seychelles….”

What Laubscher does plan to do in Seychelles this year is operate a new land-based operation on Far- quhar island, using land-based infrastructure there formerly available only to the Government and invited guests. He elaborated as follows:

“A lot of anglers have been asking us to create a suitable way to fish the remote outer atolls – one that does not expose them to the threat of piracy. And Seychelles authorities have approached us about the need to keep tourism alive on the outer atolls. Tourism provides the livelihood of many Seychellois people. What they have done is make the existing land-based infrastructure on Farquhar Atoll available to recreational anglers. There is no need for security here, as Farquhar Atoll is the most southerly atoll in Seychelles. It’s 700 kilometers southwest of Mahé. This diverse fishery offer countless hard, white, sand flats, interspersed with areas of turtle grass and broken coral, not to mention channels and surf zones. Farquhar is best known for its giant trevally and bonefish, but it also offers Indo-Pacific permit, triggerfish, barracuda, milkfish, bumphead parrotfish and various other trevally species. Offshore, anglers can target grouper, giant trevally, dogtooth and yellowfin tuna, wahoo, sailfish and occasional marlin. We will be the only recreational anglers fishing this atoll and surrounding waters. The fishing is ridiculously good here, on par with fishing on any of the remote outer atolls of the Seychelles.”

Laubscher describes the accommodations on Farquhar as “modest but comfortable for up to 10 guests in five twin-bed, en-suite, air-conditioned rooms.” FlyCastaway will be sending four new 17-foot skiffs out to Farquhar, he says. Plans call for there to be two or three anglers per FlyCastaway guide and skiff. Laubscher says the cost of this trip is pegged at US $7,000 from Mahé, which includes the hour-and-45 minute charter flight to the island’s airstrip. He currently has dates open in late February, March and early April, with other openings possible.
Of course, anglers looking for the safety of a purely land-based operation still have Alphonse Island available, the original Seychelles destination. Peter Rippin of The Fly Fisher group, which includes Fly Fish Seychelles, had this to say about the current situation: “Not much has changed on Alphonse, other than an increase in bones in the five- to eight-pound range and a continual improvement in giant trevally. We still have some spaces open in early October. This is a great time to fish the flats, as they have not been touched for months and the fish are incredibly aggressive. You can have fairly breezy weather, but the fishing is off the charts.”

Rippin tells us that the overall price from Mahé has come down from US $7,350 last year to US $6,890 for 2010/11. The price for the three weeks 18 December and running through 8 January has been further reduced to US $6,290.

As for the new program I told you about last month on Desroches Island, it is neither entirely land-based nor is it a live-aboard opportunity. This opportunity was created by Untamed Angling and can be booked through Frontiers. Anglers stay at a luxury land-based resort and travel out daily to fish St. Josephs and Poivre Atoll.

The two live-aboard options scheduled to start in October have clearly spared no expense in their outfitting. The newly christened Indian Ocean Explorer II is 160 feet long. It was originally built in 1966 as a sounding vessel for the Canadian Coast Guard. As this is written, she is undergoing a complete refit (including the installation of three new engines — two functional and a spare) in Florida before heading for South Africa where she’ll receive finishing touches. From there, she will be making several shakedown cruises as a dive vessel in Seychelles waters before switching to fishing in October.

The IOE II will carry a total of 12 anglers. She is equipped with 12 passenger cabins (two “VIP,” eight “comfort” and two “standard,” all with en-suite baths), plus two dining rooms, a large lounge/bar, a massage room and a “business center.” To get anglers to the flats, the IOE II will carry three Zodiacs with 90hp Yamaha engines and a 17-foot Key Largo flats skiff with a poling platform and 70hp outboard.

The IOE II is also booked by Justin Maxwell Stuart at the UK agency, Where Wise Men Fish. As of this writing, the first three trips of the season (October 28 to November 4; November 4 to 11; and November 11 to 18) are all sold out, as is November 25 through January 2. But there are still plenty of rods available November 18 to 25; December 2 to 9; and December 9 to 16). Prices are currently pegged at 4,550 Euros for eight days and seven nights aboard with six days of fishing.

As for the Neptune Warrior, it is a 79-foot catamaran-style luxury motor- yacht that draws only 4.2 feet of water. This means the craft can cruise inside the lagoons. She has five passenger cabins for 10 anglers and carries two 17-foot Orca tenders with Yamaha 85 hp engines.

Peter McLeod tells us that they are planning to run Neptune Warrior to Cosmoledo for seven weeks from October 21 to December 10, and an additional seven weeks from February 11 to April 1. The cost will be 5,995 Euros per person from Mahe. Trips will run with nine rods and three guides headed up by Arno Mathee, formerly head guide and partner of FlyCastaway. The other principal guide and manager of the operation will be Francois Botha, formerly of Frontier Fly Fishing in South Africa. The Neptune Warrior is skippered by Francis Roucou, captain of the Indian Ocean Explorer when she was hijacked.

So, what is the bottom line here? Is it safe to go back to Seychelles? Certainly, the land-based options appear to be safe. And, at least in the eyes of some anglers, so do the mothership options. In truth, the largest risk of booking one of the latter trips is not the risk of being hijacked; it’s the risk on having one’s trip cancelled or postponed because of some action pirates take in the general vicinity of Seychelles. Prospective anglers should be aware that most trip cancellation insurance would probably NOT cover such an eventuality. The companies behind the Indian Ocean Explorer II and the Neptune Warrior have both promised 100 percent refunds or rollovers to future trips without penalty. Of course, that would still leave one holding the bag on airfare.

Clearly, anglers are eager to get back to Seychelles. And we are eager to see the fishing in this part of the world return to normal. Our hat is off to any anglers who go there this year. We will be doubly thankful and respectful if you file a report and let the rest of us know how things went.

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