Netherlands based maritime infrastructure company Royal Boskalis Westminster is committing “serious environmental crimes” in the Maldives, a local environmental group has said.
The company – claimed to have the world’s largest dredging fleet – has come under fire for mining sand from the country’s only UNESCO biosphere reserve in Baa Atoll.
It also failed to build a barrier to prevent excess dredge soil from spilling onto the reef in Baa Atoll Eydhaushi Island – a move that could cause serious damage to the fragile ecosystem.
“Boskalis has to leave the Maldives now,” Ecocare founder Maeed M. Zahir told Minivan News.
The US$ 37 million four-island reclamation project has reclaimed 20 hectares in Dhaalu Atoll Meedhoo Island in March and 33 hectares in Baa Atoll Eydhafushi Island last week. Work is ongoing on Kaafu Atoll Thulusdhoo Island while a date for reclamation in Dhaalu Atoll Kudahuvadhoo Island has not yet been set.
In the two islands where reclamation was completed houses and vegetation on the shorelines were also covered in fine mixture of sand and salt due to the use of the “rainbow technique” which propels soil into the air.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has previously said fine sand particles thrust into the air by the rainbow technique could cause lung and respiratory issues.
Housing Ministry complicit
Maeed accused the Housing Ministry of being complicit in Bosaklis’ violation of environmental regulations, noting the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) had issued several warnings ordering the company to stop unsafe dredging.
“The Housing Ministry’s failure to stop the project means the ministry is pushing Boskalis. By the time, the EPA warnings arrive, the damage is already done,” he said.
Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim told Minivan News the EPA is investigating the case.
According to Maeed, the EPA had said it will impose a fine on Boskalis, but the agency has failed to do so. He called for the EPA to be removed from the Environment Ministry’s remit and given greater powers as an independent body to prevent violations in the future.
Boskalis began dredging in Meedhoo in March, but the EPA halted the project temporarily for failure to follow procedures recommended in an environmental impact assessment report.
Instead of using pipelines to transport dredged sand to the shore, Bosaklis dredgers propelled sand and salt through the air covering houses and vegetation on the shoreline in debris.
Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz told local media at the time that safety measures would be followed in the future.
However, Boskalis used the same techniques in Baa Atoll Eydhafushi Island, and furthermore, dredged sand from the UNESCO biosphere reserve and transported it to Thulusdhoo Island in Kaafu Atoll for ongoing land reclamation.
Eydhafushi residents spotted a Boskalis dredger carrying sand away from the island this weekend, and raised the issue with the EPA.
Eydhafushi Island Councillor Mohamed Riza said the company had not sought permission from the local government to mine sand from the atoll.
Baa Atoll was declared a biosphere reserve in June 2011. It is the first of it’s kind in the Maldives.
President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated the Thuludhoo reclamation project this morning.