Seychelles- a world within a world | Sunday Observer

Seychelles- a world within a world

The iconic Big Ben Clock Tower in Seychelles Capital, Victoria, erected in memory of England’s Queen Victoria.
The iconic Big Ben Clock Tower in Seychelles Capital, Victoria, erected in memory of England’s Queen Victoria.

Our Seychelles-bound flight left Katunayake Airport sharp at 2.05 a.m. and reached Victoria, the Capital of Seychelles at 4.35 a.m. It was a four-hour journey. Seychelles time is one-and-a-half hours behind Sri Lanka’s. Seychelles is a group of 115 beautiful islands located in the Indian Ocean, close to Madagascar, belonging to the African region. We spent our year-end vacation in Mahe Island and several other islands of the group.

The total population of Seychelles is 98,000. The Capital, Victoria, was established 150 years ago. Of the entire population about 86 percent live in Mahe. The rest live in five of the 115 islands. Tourist hotels have been built in several other islands, which are tourist paradises. Birds Island, Denis Island and Desroches Island are fascinating places. Tourism is the main source of income in Seychelles contributing about 90 percent to the national income. The beaches are very attractive and are among the world’s best. Thousands of tourists can be seen there, enjoying the botanical gardens and coral reefs. Most of them travel between the islands by boat and light aircraft.

Seychelles is a world within a world. The largest limestone island is found here. Large fish, giant turtles and tortoises too can be seen. The sea off the coast attracts divers from the world over. Fisheries is an important industry in the islands. One U.S. dollar is 15 Seychelles rupees.

Seychelles gained freedom from the British in 1976. Before becoming a British colony in 1812 it was under French rule from 1756. Currently around 2,200 Sri Lankans live in Seychelles. They are 2.5 percent of the total population. According to official reports the number of Sri Lankans employed there is 1,827.

The High Commission was established on June 28, 2014 during the term of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is said that the first Sri Lankans had arrived in Seychelles in 1967. They were six fishermen from Payagala, Kalutara who had reached the country in a sailing vessel. Two of them are still living in Seychelles. One of them is Douglas Imaduwa married to a Seychelles woman.

Other Sri Lankans had migrated for employment and business purposes and also because of kinship. The majority of Sri Lankans employed are in the fields of medicine, law, education, business, tourism, engineering, banking and health among other professions.

There are many Sri Lankans employed in the fisheries industry. They work in multi-day trawlers under leading companies. About 40 of these vessels have been manufactured in Sri Lanka. Plans are underway to import 15 more trawlers from our country. As reported these trawlers with 325 horsepower engines can store about 15,000 tons of fish.

It was a Sri Lankan who introduced the Internet to Seychelles in 1996. He is a leading businessman Muditha Gunatilleke (44) born in Kalutara.

Sri Lanka’s High Commissionor in Seychelles is Tikiri Bandara Herath. The senior HC officer is Tharushi Gunatilleke. They both look into the welfare and rights of Sri Lankan expatriates. While the majority of them live in Mahe about 200 reside in Praslin and La Digue islands.

The High Commission also covers Madagascar and Mauritius. Ten thousand Sri Lankans live in Madagascar. Most of them are engaged in the gem industry and related fields. Ninety percent of them are Muslims. In Mauritius the number of Sri Lankans is 5,000 of which 80 percent are Sinhalese. Ninety percent of them are in the garment industry the majority of them women. Air travel time from Seychelles to either Madagascar or Mauritus is two and a half hours.

The Seychelles Buddhist Association membership is about 500. Begun by the first High Commissioner Esala Weerakoon in 2015, the association conducts many religious programs and many students study in the Sri Lanka Dhamma School in Seychelles.

There are two ways of securing employment in Seychelles. One is though employment agencies, and the other through acquaintances. Unofficially agencies charge amounts ranging from Rs.200,000 to Rs. 500,000 but officially they are not allowed to charge more than Rs.115,000.

Last year the license of one such agency was revoked. The High Commission receives about 20 complaints a year. These labour disputes have been resolved with the agreement of both parties.

This writer met Vipul C. Kanumale (48) at his office in Victoria. Born in Kandy and a father of two he is today leading company manager and manager of a number of companies including two five star hotels and one four star hotel owned by Maldivian Ahmed Didi.

Two hundred Sri Lankans including 30 executives are employed in these hotels. Didi also coordinates the visits of about 600 Seychelles citizens seeking treatment for heart ailments at the Lanka Hospitals Limited Colombo, annually.

During the past four years Seychelles Security Forces seized 22 Sri Lankan fishing boats of which two are still in custody. Three have been released. Other vessels were confiscated.

All were engaged in illegal fishing in Seychelles territorial waters. Eleven fishermen arrested after arriving from Beruwala are still in detention camps. One has been sent back to Sri Lanka after serving a one year prison term.

It takes about 14 days to reach the Seychelles coast from Sri Lanka. The Seychelles authorities are constantly on the alert over the illegal entry of vessels to prevent narcotic drug smuggling and human trafficking.

Former Secretary of Seychelles-Sri Lanka Forum, Thusitha Serasinghe, his wife Apsara and their two sons came to Seychelles on June 20, 2003.

A director in the hospitality industry, Thusitha is also the President of the Lucks Star Sports Club. One of his two sons Thanuana Aditha entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s youngest author after publishing 30-page book at the age of three.

Six out of the 15 of the Seychelles National Cricket Squad members are Sri Lankans. They are members of the Lucks Star Sports Club registered in 2014. Since the present High Commission building is housed in a rented building, the Seychelles Government has decided to allocate free of charge a three and a quarter acre land for the construction of a new HC building opposite the country’s parliament.

Currently the Sri Lanka government is paying a rent of U.S. dollars 14,000 for the HC office, the High Commissioner’s residence and the HC Officer Gunatilleke’s residence.

The Bank of Ceylon Branch of Seychelles established in 2014 is very popular among Sri Lankans in sending money to this country. The Seychelles BOC branch has over 3,000 account holders of which about one third are Sri Lankans. Every year the bank branch shows a very high percentage of profits.

(The writer is a senior journalist who could be reached at [email protected])