Another three Somalis discovered in Maldivian waters last night have joined the queue of Somali “castaways” awaiting repatriation in Dhoonidhoo Detention Center.
The 17-year-old boy, his 20-year-old brother and their uncle, age 40, were rescued near Gaaf Alifu Atoll by a local fishing boat, while onboard a drifting dinghy devoid of food and water.
According to Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), the castaways were in good health and had identified themselves as fishermen who got lost in the high seas after their engine failed.
MNDF said that they have now been handed over to the police for further investigation, adding that there are now 40 Somali castaways under police custody.
In the past two years, several Somali nationals have arrived in the Maldives in dinghies lost at sea.
Many were found in frail health conditions due to dehydration and malnourishment, and have had to undergo long treatments before being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Center, where they are now awaiting repatriation.
However, authorities explained that the repatriation process has been delayed by the problematic task of identifying the castaways.
No castaways carried any identification documents when they were found and “it has been a difficult task to confirm their identities,” according to police.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Irushaadha Abdu Sattar meanwhile confirmed that the ministry has recently verified through India’s Somali Embassy that the 37 castaways under police custody are Somali citizens.
She added that the ministry has received the travel documents and is “doing everything we can to send them back” as it is also a “financial burden” for the state to keep them under custody.
However, she explained that repatriation also requires the government of Somalia and Maldives to sign an agreement, which is currently under review.
“We have drafted the agreement. Now we are taking the necessary legal advice”, Irushaadha said, adding that the internal politics of Somalia is also hindering the repatriation process.
“As you know there is no central government in Somalia and some areas are autonomous. We have identified people from different areas. So should we sign the agreement with the all the ruling body in different areas? We can’t just go and leave them there”, she said.
Therefore, she added that the foreign ministry has been collaborating with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as they have more experience in the region.
“We are also trying to get an airplane for their transfer as it would not be safe to use the commercial airlines”, she said.
Meanwhile, with an increase in attacks in the Indian Ocean uncertainty remains as to the threat of piracy in Maldivian territory.
Tim Hart, a security analyst specialising in piracy in the southern African region for Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants (MUSC), in June told Minivan News that the two attacks reported that month off India’s southern coast raised wider security issues for the Maldives that have previously affected other nearby archipelago nations like the Seychelles.
However, MNDF has steadily countered that the country’s territorial waters have not come under direct attack from piracy originating in Somalia.
MNDF Spokeperson Abdul Raheem earlier told Minivan News that despite the trend of small Somalian vessels drifting into Maldivian waters – often with engineering problems – no reported attacks or activities linked to piracy were believed to have occurred in the country.
Raheem conceded that the potential for piracy remained a “major problem” in ensuring the security of the archipelago, which depends on tourism for as much as 70 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Raheem said that despite the serious concerns raised over potential piracy attacks in the Maldives, MNDF would pursue existing initiatives to protect its waters in collaboration with foreign naval forces including India, Turkey and the US, which have all taken part in patrols across the country.