The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has said that officers who searched the vessel of seven Somali castaways yesterday bought ashore in Gnaviyani Atoll have discovered a bullet shell inside the boat.
Several incidents of Somali nationals being washed up or brought to the Maldives after being found lost at sea have been reported during the last twelve months. This has led to allegations that piracy originating from Africa may have reached the Indian Ocean – suspicions that are yet to have been proven beyond circumstantial evidence.
The latest vessel thought to have gone adrift from the country was found floating near the reefs of Fuvamulah in Gnaviyani Atoll late yesterday afternoon, leading to a search of the boat by MNDF officials.
”The bullet shell was found inside waste materials in their dinghy,” said MNDF Major Abdul Raheem. ”Only one was found.”
Abdul Raheem said the seven men aboard the vessel had now been handed over to police for investigation.
Island Chief Muneer Hussein said the vessel was discovered yesterday around 5:30 pm.
”They were flying white flags and calling for help,” he said.
Muneer said people on the beach signaled them to come ashore.
”They ran their vessel’s engine and came ashore,” Muneer said. ”With the help of some boys near the beach the boat was beached.”
He said the castaways spoke a little English and said they were from Somalia.
”They said they had been drifting in the sea for two months, but appeared to be in good condition and were fairly strong,” he said.
Some opposition politicians have moved to criticise the government over the real identities and nature of castaways being found in the country. Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Waheed has said that there is a big concern lately that a large number of Somalis are being found drifting into Maldivian waters.
Waheed claimed that the government has failed to provide sufficient information for civilians on the true nature and number of castaways being found in the country, alleging a possible cover up.
”The people [Somalis] we saw yesterday do not have the appearance that they have been drifting in the sea for a long time, neither did their vessel,” he said. ”The government have not been disclosing information to the citizens and media about the recent similar incidents.”
Six badly malnourished Somali nationals were discovered adrift near the island of Makunudhoo in June after spending three months at sea – one was almost buried alive because his condition was so bad that police and islanders believed he was dead. According to an island official who spoke to Minivan News at the time, he was only saved from being buried alive because of an island superstition that the area “might become haunted if a rotten dead body was buried.”
Seven were rescued on December 1, 2009 and a further five people on December 5, while seven were rescued on May 12, 2010.
While local reports have speculated that some of the rescued Somali nationals may have been involved in piracy before becoming lost and finding their way to the Maldives, the evidence so far has been circumstantial.