Monday, 30 March 2015

Conflict in Yemen results in near-miss off city skies


Two Gulf aircraft, re-routed through Indian airspace as the Yemeni skies were closed due to the ongoing conflict in the Arab nation, came within 25 seconds of colliding with each other on Sunday night, top AAI sources told Mirror.

The sources said the two planes - Etihad Airways flight EY 622 from Abu Dhabi to Seychelles and Emirates Airlines flight EK 706 from Seychelles to Dubai - breached the mandatory separation levels about 100 nautical miles off Mumbai.

While the Mumbai Air Traffic Control is preparing a preliminary report documenting the incident, officials told Mirror the two pilots reported a Resolution Advisory (RA).

An RA is an alert that goes off in the cockpit if there is another object less than 25 seconds from a collision. It also tells the pilot if the object is above him or below him.

"It appears that the TCAS or the traffic collision avoidance system display in the Emirates aircraft cockpit went off, leading to a scare," a senior Airports Authority of India officer investigating the incident told Mumbai Mirror.

A Traffic Collision Avoidance System - or Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance system (both abbreviated as TCAS, and pronounced tee-kas) - is an aircraft collision avoidance system designed to reduce mid-air collisions between aircraft.

An official said the two aircraft were re-routed through Indian airspace because the Yemeni airspace - controlled by Shia Houthi rebels - was closed for commercial flights.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Flight time between Middle East and Seychelles increases due to closure of Yemeni airspace

Flights between Seychelles and the Middle East are currently taking a longer route to reach their destinations, due to closure of Yemeni airspace. The Yemen Civil Aviation Authority made the decision to close their airspace yesterday as a precaution to commercial aviation, after military activities erupted in the region of Aden in Yemen.
Airlines are, therefore, making a detour to avoid the Sanaa airspace and are being dispatched out in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean using Muscat and Bombay airspace. This is affecting both the Emirates and Air Seychelles/Etihad flight schedules.
In the case of Emirates airline, the flying time has increased by approximately 45 minutes, from 4 hours, 5 minutes to 4 hours, 45 minutes.
Air Seychelles/Etihad has slightly over an hour added to the flight times for the Seychelles-Abu Dhabi sector and vice versa.
Other than those traveling to Seychelles, hundreds of flights using the Yemen airspace to access the Indian Ocean region as well as large parts of Africa en route from the Gulf area, and services to and from Europe transiting in the Yemeni airspace, are being affected.
Ms. Esmee Samson, the General Manager for Air Navigation Services at the SCAA, said: “Yesterday, we also had overflying traffic from Europe to the Indian Ocean Islands which were routing mostly in the Nairobi airspace but has as of today resumed their normal routing in the Seychelles airspace with their detour being further north.”
Seychelles, as a contracted state of International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), has welcomed this cautious approach although this situation will bring about considerable additional costs and slightly longer flight times.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Transport, Mr. Joel Morgan, said:
“Safety, security, and passenger rights have to be safeguarded at all costs always. Passengers traveling to our region can rest assured that as a government as a contracting state of ICAO we will always err on the side of caution and support actions from other authorities who are doing just that.”
It is for the moment unclear for how long this situation will be on-going, but the SCAA is monitoring the situation very closely as well as the ICAO Eastern and Southern African Office in Nairobi.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Lankan assets found in Dubai

Investigators who commenced an investigation into financial deals of the Rajapaksa regime had traced $2 billion in Dubai banks, The Economic Times has reported. Of this, one account of a Rajapaksa family member allegedly has $1.064 billion, other two by two different persons have $500 million each in two separate accounts, the source said.
The report states that India along with the US have been approached to assist in the investigation to trace this huge amount. Both New Delhi and Washington are assisting with the probe, an Indian official source added. The Dubai money is estimated to account for 20% of the total amount Lankan authorities allege has been illicitly stashed abroad by the former president and his family. The family, however, has denied any wrongdoings and described the allegations as baseless.
President Maithripala Sirisena had during his visit to New Delhi last month shared details of the amount allegedly stashed away by Rajapaksa family in St Martin Islands, Hong Kong, Macau, Seychelles. He had also shared details about the huge investments allegedly made in real estate projects in Dubai, Uganda and Kenya.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

India, Seychelles agree to lease Assumption Island for 'infrastructure development'

will be leasing the Assumption Island, one of the 115 islands that constitute the Seychelles.
On paper, the island will be leased for 'island development' for tourism purposes, but in actuality, it could be put to use as a listening and surveillance post.
This arrangement is similar to that with the Mauritius authorities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently on a day long visit to the Seychelles, spoke of the agreements signed between the two sides with respect to Assumption Island.
"Our agreement today on the of in the gives a strong boost to this partnership," Prime Minister Modi said here.
"President Michel and I underlined the importance of comprehensive cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. We expressed support for a more active and productive Indian Ocean Rim Association. Our development partnership is also a strong pillar of our relations," he added.
Prime Minister Modi also spoke of the 'unique' and 'special' relationship between India and Seychelles.
"We regard as a vital partner in our Indian Ocean neighbourhood. Our relationship is unique and special. It is founded on deep sense of mutual trust and confidence. It is marked by a spirit of respect and equality; and enormous goodwill and warmth. It draws strength from our shared values of democracy and inclusiveness. It is nurtured by a common purpose - progress of our people and peace and prosperity in the Indian Ocean Region," he said.
"Seychelles has made impressive progress. It has shown that size is no barrier to the scale of achievements. This visit and my conversation with President Michel have reinforced my conviction in the strength and the importance of this relationship. Our security partnership is strong. It has enabled us to fulfil our shared responsibility to advance maritime security in the region. It is a privilege to be a partner of Seychelles in the development of its security capabilities," he added.
Speaking of matters of security cooperation between the two nations, Prime Minister Modi spoke of the coastal surveillance radar project, that he is scheduled to launch with President Michel later in the day.
"Today, I am pleased to announce that we will be giving one more Dornier aircraft to Seychelles. Later today, I will have the honour to launch the Coastal Surveillance Radar Project. This is another symbol of our cooperation. These steps will enable Seychelles to secure these beautiful islands and the vast expanse of waters around them. Seychelles will also continue to make an enormous contribution to the safety and security of the Indian Ocean Region," he said.
"Our agreement today on hydrographic survey adds a new dimension to our maritime cooperation. I thank Seychelles for their confidence in India. We also hope that Seychelles will soon be a full partner in the maritime security cooperation between India, Maldives and Sri Lanka," he added.
Assumption Island is one of the 115 islands scattered over 1.5 million square kilometres of sea in the middle of the Western Indian Ocean. The islands fall into two distinct groups - the Inner Islands that lie within the relatively shallow Seychelles Plateau - and the Outer Islands that lie beyond the Plateau up to ten degrees south of the Equator.
The Assumption Island is 11.74 square kilometres in size and is part of the Aldabra Group.elations between India and Seychelles have been characterized by close cooperation and understanding, specifically in the defence sector.
In 1986, India had executed 'Operation Flowers are Blooming' in Seychelles, when on a request by then-president Rene, prime minister Rajiv Gandhi instructed then Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Tahiliani, to dispatch the frigate INS Vindhyagiri to avert a coup.
In 2009, on the request of Seychelles, India dispatched naval ships to patrol its exclusive economic zone and guard it against piracy. India has also helped Seychelles' armed forces in capacity building.
In 2014, an Indian naval ship, the INS Tarasa, was gifted to Seychelles to augment surveillance and patrolling capacity of Seychelles waters. Several Indian ships have since made port calls in Victoria.
Seychelles had earlier offered China its harbour for refuelling and docking of Chinese warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy operations.
India was alarmed by the development, though Beijing tried to assuage Indian fears that it was not looking at Seychelles as a military base, but only as a pit stop for refuelling purposes.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Modi to commission surveillance radar system in Mahe

India will set up 32 surveillance stations fitted with navigational military radars in Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives and Sri Lanka to keep an eye on the Chinese maritime traffic in the Indian Ocean region.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leaving for a five-day tour of the island nations, during which he would commission the first coastal surveillance radar system in the Mahe island in Seychelles.

The remaining seven stations in Seychelles would be up and running in the next six months. Five of them would be at Mahe whereas three would be located in outer islands.

While the prime minister was initially scheduled to visit all the four islands housing these coastal radars, Maldives was dropped out of his itinerary because of the ongoing political turmoil.

The India Ocean surveillance radar network comprises eight stations each in Seychelles and Mauritius and 10 in Maldives. Former defence minister A K Antony commissioned the snooping stations in Mauritius about two years ago.

The six units in Sri Lanka, however, do not have the radar at the moment but only the automatic identification system (AIS) and electro-optical instruments. Other islands would have all the three components – maritime navigational radar that operate in the I-band frequency, AIS for boats weighing more than 300 tonnes and the electro-optical system for imaging.

While the network would aid these islands to monitor their Exclusive Economic Zone, India can use the data to keep an eye on the Chinese maritime traffic.

“We have to do it for our own interest. Else, someone else (read China) will gain in the time we lose,” said a source.

The 10 coastal radar stations in Maldives are soon expected to receive the Cabinet approval. Navy chief Admiral R K Dhowan visited Mauritius in January when he reviewed the progress of several naval projects, including the coastal stations.

Bank Negara must investigate Jho Low for money laundering

Bank Negara should investigate Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho and his associates for suspected money laundering in the acquisition of UBG Bhd via Petro Saudi International (Seychelles) Ltd using funds from state-owned 1Malaysia Development Malaysia (1MDB), DAP said.
The party's publicity chief Tony Pua said that the complicated money trail involving 1MDB clearly showed that it was meant as a cover up and to legitimise the acquisition of assets using illegitimately acquired funds.
Speaking at the Parliament lobby today, he said the fact that the funds were siphoned out of 1MDB made it an illegal action, adding that any money derived from illegal action and spent on subsequent assets counted as money laundering.
"Clearly there is deception involved because evidence provided by Sarawak Report shows that there was the agreement between Jho Low and PetroSaudi that Jho Low controls the funding in PetroSaudi Seychelles which was ultimately used to acquire Utama Banking Group (UBG).
"The PetroSaudi joint venture was designed for Jho Low and his associates to siphon billions of ringgit from the Finance Ministry-owned subsidiary 1MDB and in collusion with their foreign counterparts in PetroSaudi, they designed a highly sophisticated layering transactions to disguise the audit trail and provide anonymity," Pua said.
He said that there was enough suspicion for the Malaysian authorities to initiate investigations for money laundering under the Anti-Money Laundering Act and Anti-Terrorism Financing (Amendment) Act 2013.
UBG was owned by the former chief minister of Sarawak Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Sarawak Report had revealed that PetroSaudi Seychelles, via wholly owned subsidiary Javace Sdn Bhd, made a general offer to acquire all UBG shares for a total of RM1.4 billion in September 2010, adding that AmInvestment Bank Bhd had provided RM700 million to finance the acquisition.
For the balance, Petro Saudi Seychelles transferred US$260 million (RM850 million) to Javace Sdn Bhd.
However, the amount originated from 1MDB's US$500 million loan to 1MDB PetroSaudi Limited in September 2010 via the subscription of additional Murabaha notes.
He added that based on documents by Sarawak Report, US$160 million out of the additional US$500 million loan extended was transferred directly to Gold Star Limited, a company controlled by Low and his associates.
When asked if there was anything which implicated prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in the 1MDB fiasco, Pua said he would leave that to the police to investigate.
"The prime minister is also the minister of finance and he had allegedly approved transactions such as lending of big sums of money to PetroSaudi, so he needs to clarify that.
"Ultimately, the buck stops with him, but whether he committed a crime or not, I leave it to the police to investigate," Pua said.
Meanwhile, Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng said he would be lodging a formal complaint with Bank Negara to investigate 1MDB.
"The IGP announced a special task force to investigate 1MDB made up of MACC, the police and the Attorney-General's Chambers.
"But how come it did not include Bank Negara?" he asked at the Parliament lobby today. – March 10, 2015.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Modi to ramp up help for Indian Ocean nations to counter China influence

(Reuters) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi will offer island nations in the Indian Ocean a broad range of military and civilian assistance next week in a bid to wrest back some of the influence China has gained by spending billions of dollars in the region.
Modi will make the pledges during a visit to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles after decades of neglect by successive Indian governments. His trip to Sri Lanka will be the first in 28 years by an Indian prime minister.
China has built seaports, power plants and highways across the small island nations. Its navy has also made forays into the Indian Ocean, including when submarines docked last year in Sri Lanka, rattling New Delhi, which has an uneasy relationship with Beijing.
New Delhi is hoping to tie the islands into a closer security embrace, Indian officials said.
"India has a role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region," said a defence official involved in preparations for Modi's trip, which begins on March 10. "We are providing patrol ships, surveillance radars and ocean mapping for the island states."
At the top of Modi's agenda is Sri Lanka, the tear-shaped island off the southern coast of India where a new government, concerned at Beijing's growing influence, is reviewing infrastructure contracts the previous administration awarded to China. It has also ruled out additional Chinese submarine visits in the near future.
Modi is expected to tighten defence and security cooperation and push for final approval for a 500 MW power plant to be built by India's state-run National Thermal Power Corporation under a 2012 agreement in Trincomalee, a strategic port in eastern Sri Lanka, Indian officials said.
The two sides were also in talks to upgrade military training, a Sri Lankan government official said.
During the past year, the Indian defence ministry carried out a survey to identify the maritime needs of the island nations and has begun addressing them, the Indian defence official said.
Modi will commission a 1,300-tonne Indian-built patrol vessel in Mauritius, the first of such sales which include fast attack craft under construction in Indian shipyards.
"We have practically given Mauritius a coastguard," said Commodore Ranjit Rai, a former head of Indian naval intelligence and operations.
Other nations require similar maritime assistance, according to the Indian defence ministry assessment.
Sri Lanka also needs help with fisheries patrols while the Maldives needs assistance with surveillance against piracy as well as the threat of Islamic State supporters finding a sanctuary in the island chain.
Meanwhile, India and Seychelles are expected to sign an agreement on mapping of the waters around the archipelago during Modi's visit.
At the same time, China is upgrading the Maldives' international airport after authorities cancelled a deal with an Indian firm in 2012.
China has in the past also considered Seychelles as a potential resupply port for navy ships taking part in anti-piracy operations off Africa. Its submarines, one of them nuclear-powered, docked in Sri Lanka on their way to join the anti-piracy operations.
But Modi should not push the smaller states to choose between India and China, said Vijay Sakhuja, director of the government-funded National Maritime Foundation of India and a specialist on Indian Ocean security issues.
"China's overt military support to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Mauritius is an issue which has caused enormous anxiety in India. Notwithstanding that, it will be prudent for Modi to avoid raising the issue, which could result in an "India or China" dilemma."