MP Mohamed Musthafa of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has demanded the government withdraw a maritime agreement with the Sri Lankan government – an agreement to allow Sri Lankan vessels passage through Maldivian waters to to the Arabian sea – or face a binding resolution from parliament that will force the government to invalidate the agreement.
“The agreement is for opening Maldivian waters for Sri Lankan fisherman to steal our fish in Maldivian [territorial] waters,” Musthafa claimed. “The Sri Lankan government knows that the Maldivian waters are rich in fish and has many fishing points, that is why they have made this agreement.”
Musthafa said that Sri Lankan vessels would not normally have the fuel capacity to reach Arabian waters.
“Their intention is to steal our fish, but I cannot just stand aside and watch while they take away our fish, which is the only source of natural resource we have in abundance,” he said. “It is a right that has to be preserved for future generations.”
In response to reports in the Sri Lankan media that an agreement had been signed, Fisheries Minister Dr Ibrahim Didi told local media today that no such agreement had been signed.
However Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair confirmed to newspaper Haveeru that a maritime agreement had been signed.
“The agreement abides by the International Maritime Law and no side can disregard that. If a vessel intends to make a crossing it has to inform the Sri Lankan Embassy in the Maldives 48 hours earlier to enable a lawful process,” Zuhair said.
Musthafa meanwhile said that he had confirmed the signing of the agreement.
“I cannot tell the media who signed it on behalf of the Maldives, but I can say that the Foreign Minister will be aware of this,” he said, adding that Dr Didi’s remarks were made because he was unaware of the agreement.
“I will see how the government decides to act upon this issue and will submit the resolution if it does not withdraw this agreement,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror reported that the agreement will allow Sri Lankan fishing vessels to cross Maldivian territorial waters en route to the Arabian Sea.
Local news outlet Sun Online meanwhile reported the head of the DRP’s fishermen’s branch Ali Solih condemned the deal as “an insult to Maldivian fisherman” and “a dangerous deal,” since the Maldives did not have the capacity to monitor illegal fishing.