Abu Dhabi’s ‘love affair’ with Seychelles grows stronger
With some of Etihad's executives moving over to Air Seychelles and Abu Dhabi's increasing bilateral relations with the islands, could we one day call the country UAE's eight emirate?
February 1, 2012 5:16 by Precious de Leon
How does it feel to be CEO for only four months? That’s the question we’d love to ask Bram Steller, who took the role of Air Seychelles CEO on October 1, 2011. You see, effective February 1, 2012, Etihad Airways announced that Cramer Ball, the carrier’s regional general manader for Asia-Pacific South and Asutralasia, will now assume the position of Chief Executive under the management contract that Air Seychelles recently signed with Etihad.
While we can assume that Steller probably got a nice compensation package (so don’t bring out your violins just yet), this restructuring adds another layer to the increasing interest that Abu Dhabi has on Seychelles’s overall infrastructure and economy.
This is especially interesting, given that Air Seychelles isn’t the most appealing of businesses—it has recorded its second year of losses in the FY2010/2011 period given that Middle East carriers are taking up a lot of its business (In fact, Steller is the company’s fourth CEO). But, as the flagship airline of a country, where Emirates and Qatar Airways are dominating and where the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi is building a mansion that has caused a stir among the residents, Air Seychelles becomes a lot more strategic to Etihad Airways.
When Steller was in office, there were talks that Air Seychelles was in such bad shape that it was considering privatisation, even contacting Emirates and Qatar Airways (its direct competitors) to consider becoming partner airlines.
Looking at the history between the UAE capital and Seychelles, however, Etihad’s 40 percent acquisition seemed like a more likely fit. President of Seychelles James Alix Michael is quite open about his close friendship with UAE President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
And this bond is reciprocated, as Seychelles Founding President, Sir James R. Mancham said he was “greatly touched and moved when His Highness described the Seychelles-UAE relationship more as a ‘love affair’ then mere ‘friendship’. ”
Over the last six months, there been a number of moves to strengthen the economic relationship between the two. The latest of which is Etihad’s 40 percent acquisition of Air Seychelles for $20 million and its loan of $25 million to the carrier.
Prior to the acquisition, Etihad started its Seychelles flights in November 2011. In the same month, Seychelles opened an embassy in Abu Dhabi and saw Abu Dhabi’s clean energy firm Masdar announced that it will launch a wind-farm in Seychelles by the end of 2011—and counting.
That’s not all, in October 2011, the UAE funded Seychelles’ coast guard base to the tune $15 million. In addition, that month also saw the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council start collaborations with government of Seychelles to develop a masterplan for Mahe, the latter’s capital city.
All of this activity makes 2011 look like a stark contrast to the year that was 2010 for UAE-Seychelles relations. That year, Sheikh Khalifa’s mansion project on top of Mahe’s tallest mountain came under fire when nearby residents claimed their water source was tainted by the contractor’s sewage and diesel run off.
This started a long-running discussion that ended with the President’s Office and the Government of Seychelles pointing a finger at the contractor, UAE-based Ascon (Associated Contracting & Consulting Ltd).
Later that year, the presidential office offered to pay $15 million to replace the water-piping system for the mountainside. In addition, negotiations are still going on between Ascon, the UAE and the resident over terms of the final settlement. Ascon has reportedly offered to pay about $8000 to each of the 360 households affected.
With each passing year, looks like the relations between the two governments continue to strengthen. Seychelles gets its infrastructure and the UAE gets a chunkier piece of the tourism pie, and then some.
Finishing off in a somewhat positive stance, Founding President Mancham’s wrote in his autobiography:
“The wealth from neighboring Arab States can play an important role in the proper development of our islands whose ‘primitive beauty’ has survived over the years through geographical isolation. But it is important that the relationship between the Gulf States and Seychelles develops in a comprehensively enlightened and positive way, which takes into account our common interest and in each other’s sensitivities.”
It’ll be interesting to see what will be the next move for the UAE capital. And to what extent will this ‘love affair´ grow. What do you think? Where is the love coming from? And should the residents in Seychelles have a say in how the economic relations are going on? What about UAE residents? Leave comments in the section below.