Government ordered to pay MVR349 million in damages for terminated transport contract

The Civil Court has ordered the Maldives government to pay MVR348,995,154.60 (US$22.5million) to Dheebaja Investment Pvt Ltd for the abrupt and unlawful termination of a contract to establish ferry services in four northern atolls.

The verdict, dated October 23, said President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administration had terminated a contract with Dheebaja on 30 May 2013 claiming the company had failed to fulfill terms by suspending ferry services to Baa Atoll Fulhadhoo and Fehendhoo Islands.

The transport services contract had been signed under former President Mohamed Nasheed in February 2010. Dheebaja was to provide ferry services in Noonu, Raa, Baa and Lhaviyani Atolls in exchange for 47 plots of land to build ferry terminals and tourism development.

The Civil Court found that the Waheed administration’s termination of the contract was unlawful, stating the government had violated the contract first by failing to hand over promised plots of land to Dheebaja.

The court ordered the Maldives government to pay nearly MVR349 million in damages to Dheebaja for it’s unilateral decision to terminate contract with only five days of notice. The amount is to be paid back within six months.

The Maldives is also currently facing a potentially crippling payout to India’s GMR infrastructure for the abrupt and unlawful termination of a contract to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

President Waheed had declared the US$511 million contract “void ab initio” (invalid from the outset) in November 2012 and gave GMR a seven-day ultimatum to leave the country.

However, a Singaporean arbitration court in June declared the agreement to be “valid and binding” and said the government and Maldives Airports Company Pvt Ltd (MACL) are liable to GMR for damages.

The arbitration tribunal is in the process of determining a compensation figure. Although GMR had initially sought US$1.4 billion – a figure that exceeds the Maldives’ annual budget – government sources say the figure will be between US$300million and US$600million.

The World Bank in 2013 said the payout would place severe pressure on the country’s already critically low foreign reserves.

Since President Nasheed’s controversial ouster in 2012, President Waheed and incumbent President Abdulla Yameen’s administration have terminated or renegotiated several contracts signed under Nasheed.

The government, on October 22, terminated an agreement made with India based Tatva Global Renewable Energy to provide waste management services in Malé and renegotiated a housing contract with India’s TATA group.

The US$190 million housing project had been delayed for more than two years.

Indian companies blamed the government of creating “undue challenges” for political gain to derail their substantial investments in the Maldives in a 2012 report in India’s Business Standard.

Nasheed’s government had been ousted after months of a vitriolic nationalist and anti–India campaign.

Several of Yameen’s ministers also served in Waheed’s cabinet. They include Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad, Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muizzu, and Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.

Incumbent Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon served as Waheed’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs while Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed held the position of Home Minister.

Since assuming power, Yameen has strengthened trade and political ties with China and the Maldives is now a partner in China’s flagship Silk Route.


Boskalis committing “environmental crimes” in UNESCO biosphere reserve, says Ecocare

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.


Hanifaru clean-up completed in Baa Atoll biosphere reserve

A clean up project took place yesterday (May 10) in the Maldvies Baa Atoll – the Maldives’ first certified UNESCO biosphere reserve.

The clean up of Hanifaru Island and Hanifu reef maintenance was carried out by a large group of volunteers from within the reserve – including local councillors, police officers, and resort workers.

Baa Atoll was officially launched as a Biosphere Reserve in June 2012 by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

Obtaining the status of UNESCO biosphere resulted in significnant funding for the atoll, with the UNDP handing over a cheque for US$250,000 as a contribution to the fund at the opening ceremony.

Tourist resorts in Baa Atoll, including Soneva Fushi, Coco Palm, Four Seasons, and Anantara and several other resorts have also pledged donations.

The Baa Atoll Conservation Fund will be used to finance projects to conserve the environment in the atoll as well to support livelihood activities.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) coordinates a world network of over 500 biospheres, which are designated as areas of conservation and innovative sustainable development.

In a recent statement from the Biosphere Reserve Office, the organisers extended their gratitude to everyone who helped with the clean up, assuring that together they can achieve the common goal of managing the reserve.

Participants in the cleanup of Hanifaru included those from the atoll council, Eydhafushi Island Council, Baa Atoll Education Centre, the Maldives Police Services, and Baa Atoll Hospital. The Hanifaru reef cleanup and maintenance was undertaken by Four Seasons, Seamarc, Reathbeach Resort, Dusit Thani, Seasplash, and Kihaad Maldives.


“Black rain” in Eydhafushi unsafe for use

The Public Health Unit (PHU) has warned Baa Atoll Eydhafushi Island residents against drinking or cooking with rainwater following a “black rain” shower on Tuesday.

Similar incidents of black colored rain were reported in Meemu Atoll Kolhufushi Island in 2011, and Haa Dhaal Atoll Kulhudhuffushi Island in 2006.

In 2013 there were further reports on Haa Dhaal Atoll Nolhivaram Island and Haa Dhaal Atoll Kurimbi Island, and in Dhaalu Atoll Meedhoo Island.

However, little seems to be known about the health implications of this occurrence. Islanders have speculated the phenomenon maybe acid rain.

“We advise people not to use the water for drinking or cooking, but they might be able to give it to their plants,” a Health Protection Agency (HPA) official told Minivan News.

The HPA said they have not observed any negative health effects from black rain yet.

Islanders are heavily dependent on rainwater for cooking and drinking, but many are now turning to store-bought mineral water as reserves run low in the dry season.

Senior Community Health Officer at Baa Atoll Hospital Sidqi Abdulla told Minivan News islanders were not concerned about threats posed by polluted water to their water supplies as the black rain was only seen on some parts of the island.

“This is the first time we’ve seen black rain in Eydhafushi,” he said.

However, he noted increased water insecurity in the island due to intrusion of saltwater into groundwater.

Although state officials have yet to confirm the reason for the black rain, research carried out by University of California’s Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan indicates there is ten times more pollutants in the air mass north of the Maldives compared with the south.

The Cloud Aerosol Radiative Forcing Dynamics Experiment (CARDEX) carried out in 2012 suggests that soot and carbon from India are captured in ‘brown clouds,’ which drift over the North of the archipelago.

This pollutant layer, he argues, is an insidious mixture of soot, sulphates, nitrates and ash, Ramanathan has said.

Only the southern tip of the long island chain enjoys clean air coming all the way from Antarctica.

“The stunning part of the experiment was this pollutant layer which was three kilometre thick, cut down the sunlight reaching the ocean by more than 10%,” Ramanathan said in a BBC interview.


Police recover MVR200,000 stolen from shop in Eydhafushi

Police have recovered MVR200,000 and MVR68,000 worth of goods stolen from a shop in the island of Eydhafushi, Baa Atoll.

Police said that two minors and an 18 year-old man were arrested in connection with the case.

According to the police, the shop was robbed in the early hours of January 31, and was reported to police the same afternoon.

Police stated that a special police investigation team in Baa Atoll had conducted an operation, recovering the money and property, and arresting the suspects.


Two men reported missing found alive

Two men reported missing after going diving for sea-cucumbers have been found alive.

According to police, the two men aged 21 and 28 went diving near the surfing point in Baa Atoll, later being found 900 meters off Fendhoo island in Baa Atoll.

Police said that they were reported missing at noon but were found at around 2pm today.

The two were found by a speedboat belonging to Royal Island resort – Baa Atoll police are is further investigating the case.


Four arrested in connection with Dharavandhoo power house robbery

Police have arrested four people from the island of Dharavandhoo in Baa Atoll in connection with the theft of MVR 75,000 (US$5000) was stolen from the island’s power house.

In a statement issued today police said the four men, aged between 21 and 27, were arrested yesterday at about 2:00pm after police obtained a court warrant. One of those arrested was a staff member at the power house.

Police alleged two islanders aged 16 and 23 tried to obstruct the arrests, and were also arrested.

Both the charges of robbery and obstruction of police duty have been filed at Dharavandhoo police station.

Baa Atoll online newspaper Eydhafushi Times reported Island Council President of Dharavandhoo Ibrahim Rashid as saying the power house was robbed after the staff allegedly left the power house to eat.

According to the paper, the staff learned about the robbery when they returned to duty at dawn.

Local media reported that the MVR 75,000 was stored inside a safe, which the thieves destroyed.

The Island Council Secretariat had not responded to calls at time of press.


Construction of 100 housing units in Thulhaadhoo to begin

The foundations for 100 housing units have been laid down on the island of Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll in an attempt to alleviate housing difficulties on the island.

Local media reported that the project, which includes a total of 300 units, is to begin shortly and is expected to be completed within two years.

“As Housing is a big problem in Thulhaadhoo, former President Nasheed said he will reclaim land on Thulhaadhoo and that he will make the island habitable for 10,000 people.

“17 hectares were reclaimed and large stones were placed under that project,” Thulhaadhoo Council President Ahmed Rasheed was quoted as saying in local media.


Child killed by falling television set

A 23 month-old girl on the island of Fehendhoo in Baa Atoll has died after a television fell on top of her, local media has reported.

The Sun Online news agency said the incident was believed to have occurred at 9:25am yesterday (March 1), with the child later dying from her injuries after being taken to Goidhoo Health Centre for treatment.

Speaking to local media, Fehendhoo Council President Ibrahim Shaheen stated that the mother of the girl had said that a 32-inch television set had fallen on the child as she was playing with her three year-old sister. The girl’s mother was said to have been alerted to the incident after hearing a loud noise while she was in the kitchen, Shaheen added.

Police are currently investigating the incident.