The Seychelles islands – dive into an investment

4 35 S, 55 40 E, lies a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar. They comprise over 100 islands and are the only mid-ocean granite islands in the world. The islands are split into three main groups, the Inner Islands in the North, with the Amirantes and Aldabra & the Southern Islands lying to a South Easterly direction.

The Seychelles have a tropical maritime climate with temperatures in the 24 – 30°C, (75 – 86°F), range from May to September, the South East wind season; the warmest season is October to April when light North Westerly winds allow temperatures to rise to 32°C, 90°F. Sea temperatures are around the 25°C, 77°F during the South East season and peak out at around 29°C, 85°F, in the North West season.

Seychelles - Bay View

The Republic of Seychelles was a settlement established by the French in the mid-eighteenth century with only 15 Europeans, five Malabar Indians, and 7 seven Africans. From this, the population grew to 3500 by the time the Seychelles was ceded to Britain in 1814. According to the history of Seychelles, it was the Arabs who first navigated the waters around the Seychelles as early as the 19th century.

162 years later, a single party state, led by Albert Rene, had gained power in a coup d’etat from its democratically elected predecessor, fronted by James Mancham, shortly after Seychelles was granted independence from Britain in 1976. During that time, a ‘campaign for democracy’, based in London and supported by James Mancham, railed against the perceived injustices going on in Seychelles; besides widespread disappearances, occasional killings, the suppression and eventual expulsion abroad of all dissenting voices, these included further spates of land acquisitions. In 2004 President Rene resigned, to be succeeded by his deputy, James Michel.

Since their independence, per capita output in this Indian Ocean archipelago has expanded to roughly seven times the old near-subsistence level. Growth has been led by the tourist sector, which employs about 30% of the labour force and provides more than 70% of hard currency earnings, and by tuna fishing, and export of cinnamon bark and copra.

The unit of currency is the Seychelles Rupee (SR) which is divided into 100 cents. In mid-1998 5 SR = 1 USD. Paper notes are in denominations of 10, 25, 50 and 100 SR. Coins are 1 and 5 SR as well as 1, 5, 10 and 25 cents. However, all hotels will charge you in EUROS so take plenty with you!

Investment

In recent years the government has encouraged foreign investment in order to upgrade hotels and other services. Private foreign investment is encouraged in tourism, manufacturing and petroleum exploration. The Seychelles International Business Authority set up by the government in 1995, offers incentives and tax concessions to foreign investors. Over 1,000 international companies are registered in the country. I was chatting to the resort owner where I stayed, and in the modest and relaxed Seychellois way he said that if you come with 40,000USD to the Seychelles and offer to buy a decent diving boat with it the government will fall over to help you to do the rest!

Apparently, it is also low tax and employers receive an automatic entitlement to employ up to 25% of employees from overseas, at a confessional fee of SR. 500 per month per employee out in the legislation. To encourage investors, the Government has enacted the Investment Promotion Act 1994, which enables businesses to operate under a guaranteed taxation climate with special incentives laid. The Seychelles is a signatory to the Lome TV convention benefiting from the provisions of the convention, a member state of the African Caribbean Pacific countries, and a signatory to the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which protects all investors from expropriation. If you aren’t sure about what I have just written, the plain words of it are TAX HAVEN. Now I can already see some smiles.

Seychelles - Palm

So, offshore banking in Seychelles is possible with few questions asked. In fact, I read somewhere that the president, in an attempt to boost the country’s economy, announced that for $10 million, the Seychelles would grant immunity from prosecution for all criminal proceedings whatsoever. That means criminals won’t be extradited from the Seychelles to any foreign country for trial. If this were true, then as a potential Seychellois neighbour I would keep myself to myself!

Diving/Freediving

The waters surrounding the Seychelles are relatively shallow. If you look at a chart you will see maximum depths of 40-50m. The water is clear and you can swim out quite a distance from the beach quite safely, and freedive down to granite rocks covered in corals and reef fish, in 10-20m of water. There are lots of stingrays and plenty of baby eagle rays swimming close to the shore. I only did two scuba dives in the Seychelles and enjoyed both of them tremendously. The fish species are abundant and there are lots of octopus, large marble rays, nudibranch and different species of reef fish. Booby Island (see the shape of it to understand the name) was a lovely dive site and only 18m deep. One of those dives where I wished I had a rebreather and a patient boat captain.

Dive operations in the Seychelles have a very shaky reputation with the locals. Upon speaking to locals I found out that there have been lives lost and divers drifted out to sea on a few occasions. On scouring around the island of Praslin, I could see why. Out on the bay were shabby looking boats not really designed for diving, some with only one motor? There were some dodgy-looking dive shops scattered along some beaches, and not many professional looking outfits. However, perhaps one should be more open-minded to "island style" and not take everything face value. I was concerned as to where to dive.

Seychelles - big eyes

I was recommended a dive shop at the Paradise Sun resort, called White Tip Divers [email]. The owner is friendly good-looking Frenchman called Arnaud, with rich knowledge of Indian Ocean waters and many years experience. He took me on a very safe and enjoyable diving trip. He and his staff were fit, helpful and professional. Arnaud appeared with his tousled hair, tanned skin and well-used diving gear, and a smile that could tame a white shark. He smacked of experience and comfort with what he was doing, and what charisma! His shop was organised and clean, and he provided Scubapro (www.scubapro.com) rental gear in good condition and a proper training pool. He has Seychellois instructors working for him, one in particular stood out whose name was Oliver, nicknamed "Tuiss" (Hmm don’t ask?) All very excellent people with a good sense of humour and paid very attention to all of the divers.

The safety rules and briefings were outstanding yet a little out-measured by the type of boats we had to dive from. We shared a boat with another dive shop to combine resources, and it was very small, and packed with divers. So small, that it was almost like riding out to a dive site in a rib. At regular tropical island diving prices it’s not what you really expect. Or am I just spoiled by Maldives diving?

Seychelles - big eyes2

It was choppy and the swell was up, and gearing up and entry was very tricky, especially for newbies. I came to the conclusion that the Seychelles needs dive operations with decent sized diving boats. Unfortunately for the locals, there are not many people with that kind of money. They also need to enforce some water sport rules, as there were fishing and diving boats tearing around in the snorkelling areas off public beaches. Locals tell of horrid accidents in recent years due to these yet unestablished (or ignored) rules. However, congratulations to White Tip Divers for there most excellent operation and service. Thank you.

Land Ownership

According to local information, the land acquired during the coup d’etat was left idle. Some of it, however, was turned over to state enterprises. Fifteen years later there was a redistribution of land, whether any original owners received back their entitlements, remains a political argument within the Seychelles, and from what I have read, is unresolved.

From what I understood from the resort owners where I stayed (Iles des Palmes), Seychellois people get long-term leases on land and are allowed to build resorts. The sensible, island-wide edict forbids building a structure higher than the highest palm. Hence the locals have managed to maintain an unspoiled landscape with their marvellous mountainous backdrops which loom over crystal clear lagoons. As a result, resorts are built outwards, as opposed to upwards. The "Miami" effect that has spoiled a lot of Caribbean islands is not present here. Buildings are low and resorts are spacious with large gardens, lots of them housing special gardens for conserving the Seychelles Giant Tortoise. The roadsides and beaches are kept immaculate, in fact, they are the cleanest tropical islands I have seen anywhere in the world. Driving along you see people sweeping, trimming back hedges, clearing away coconuts and generally keeping tidy. What a pleasure. And the beaches were immaculate.

There are also a few resorts "in trouble". Poor management and lack of good marketing has landed some excellent investment opportunities for potential investors who don’t want to build from scratch. At the time I was there, Mango Lodge was looking for a buyer or investor. Mango Lodge is a beautiful B&B resort with A-frame bungalows which have been recently refurbished. The owner, an eccentric South African lady with a wonderful flair for rustic island decoration poured her heart (and finances) into making these chalets into very comfortable abodes. There are some older resorts in desperate need of a lift, or an efficient (and safe) water sports operation to improve their services. The possibilities are endless, and 5 new resorts are to commence construction this year.

Seychelles - Yellow Snapper

The Seychelles have commenced dredging projects to be able to accommodate visits from Cruise Liners. However, there is not much in the way of island shopping. New shop fronts will have to be built and typical cruise shipper stores will be needed (luxury goods, jewellery, alcohol and souvenirs). Easy access snorkel operations will need to be set up with the capacity to support 100s of bathers and snorkellers.

In the interior of the islands lies the wonderful and exciting world of the Creoles, a unique combination of colourful language, rhythmic music, and exotic cuisine-a blend of cultures with rich traditions and folklore. Take a car (around 40 EUR a day with good brakes but no aircon) into the hilltops amongst the palms and see the Seychellois neighbours, with aromas of frangipani, jasmine, and gardenias. The tranquillity, lush vegetation and the extensive variety of flowers, plants and trees combined with huge granite rocks jutting out of the hillside are outstanding images. On the island of Praslin, is a forest of giant palms, some as high as 100 feet, called the Valle de Mai. The female palms bear a huge seed, a coco-de-mer, weighing up to 40 pounds. Sailors thought they came from trees rooted to the sea floor, thus the name coconuts-of-the-sea.

Seychelles - Coco de Mer

The coastline is jagged, holding bays from the calmest to ones with pounding waves up cliff sides. Truly spectacular. Take your snorkelling gear with you wherever you drive as there are so many places to just park the car and drop in. The roads are steep and very hairy so make sure you have hiking boots or a good pair of trainers. I saw a few backpackers taking a lot of strain!

The Seychelles have a complicated importation system and the local shops do not always have a huge selection of goods. One shop owner told me that he went four months without being able to buy any cigarettes. Tourists were going crazy! If you are going self-catering, a good suggestion would be to go early to the fish market. You can buy a whole trevally (king fish) for about 2 dollars (after negotiation) and in the supermarkets you can buy fresh ginger, onion, tomatoes garlic, eggplant, rice and potatoes. Squash comes in now and again, and chillies are abundant. There are local sausages in the freezers and deep frozen chickens. You can also buy cheese, (just one type) in huge 5 kg block imported from New Zealand! There is a huge Indian influence mixed with African and the food is quite similar to the Caribbean style Creole. You can also catch very large mud crabs and they are delicious steamed (ask me, I did it!) Beer, however, is always available over the counter in most supermarkets and they sell it ice cold. Good news for thirsty people like myself.

If you feel like an exquisite buffet lunch, with some very fine white wine and a laze on the beach afterwards, drive out to Lemuria resort on Praslin Island. Lemuria is a luxury resort and is an excellent choice for discerning gourmet divers. There are two bays, private to the resort with fantastic snorkelling and freediving, and a short swim to the outside reef.

How to get there. Six of the 14 airports have hard surfaced runways. Seychelles International Airport (SEZ) is 10km south of Victoria, Mah. International air services are provided by Air Seychelles, Air France, British Airways, Kenya Airways, Air Mauritius, Aeroflot and Condor. International gateways include London, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Zurich, Dubai, Singapore, Nairobi, Mauritius, Maldives, India and Johannesburg. From Mahe, you take a twin otter to surrounding islands, and the trips are only 15-30 minutes. The views are fantastic and the landscape just had me in awe.

A very much recommended destination, especially if you are looking for new investment opportunities in hospitality or diving. By the way, whale sharks are common in Seychelles. It is a migratory route for these wonderful fish beasts, and the season is August, and October to January. There is a Whale Shark Monitoring Programme run by the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles.

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