MTCC not responsible for severe sand spill on Komandoo reef, says environment minister

The state owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) will not be penalised for a severe sand spill on the reef of Komandoo Island in Shaviyani Atoll, Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim told parliament today.

The sand spill – which has destroyed large swathes of the island’s reef – was caused by a storm surge, Thoriq said.

The MTCC – in charge of a coastal protection and land reclamation project on the island – had implemented the required measures to prevent sand spills, but bad weather and swells caused the erosion of reclaimed areas and washed piled up sand onto the reef, Thoriq said.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Komandoo MP Ahmed Nashid blamed the MTCC’s slow progress for the sand spill, claiming the sand piles had been left on the island’s shores since 2012.

If the project had been completed on time, the spill would not have taken place, he suggested.

Minister Thoriq told the Majlis this morning that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) had acknowledged sand had spilled onto the reef.

“However, the island council’s members said the spill was not reported in case it may halt the project,” said Thoriq.

MP Nashid had summoned the minister for questioning, asking if the ministry had done a survey of damages and if the MTCC would be penalised for the spill.

Thoriq said the environment ministry had not been informed of the spill prior to Nashid raising the issue, but had monitored the area afterwards. An EPA team had visited the site and found the MTCC had followed all environmental procedures outlined in the environmental impact assessment report, he explained.

According to Thoriq – who said the exact date of the spill was unknown – explained that the sand had now washed off into the ocean with currents and the reef was showing signs of regeneration.

If any party reports environmental violations, the EPA will inspect site and take required action, he added.

The ministry does not have the capacity to monitor all ongoing projects, and will only begin an inspection if a violation is reported. But the ministry does take punitive action against companies who violate EIAs, he insisted.

The government intends to carry out projects to address erosion in seven islands this year, the minister told MPs, with approximately 97 percent of inhabited islands in the Maldives reporting severe erosion.

The government will spend MVR116.3 million (US$ 7.5 million) on protecting 3,482 meters of shore in the seven islands, he said.

In May, environmental NGO EcoCare accused Netherlands based Boskalis of committing environmental crimes after it caused sand to be deposited onto Baa Atoll Eydhafushi Island during a reclamation project.

The company’s rainbow technique for reclamation had also covered houses and vegetation on Eydhafushi and Raa Meedhoo Island with sand and water.

Minivan News was unable to reach the EPA to confirm if action had been taken against Boskalis for damages.


Week in review: May 10 – 16

The reverberations of the the deputy prosecutor general’s resignation continued to be felt across the criminal justice system this week.

Despite the Supreme Court’s order for confused state prosecutors to return to work, the majority of cases continued to be cancelled as the courts struggled to adjudicate on the leadership vacuum at the PG’s Office.

This confusion was typified by Drug Court Judge Mahaz Ali, who expressed his disagreement with the government’s suggestion that a ‘state of necessity’ existed, enabling the most senior state prosecutor to assume the office’s responsibilities.

While the Supreme Court announced the formation of a committee to review current judicial laws, the judicial watchdog said it would look into Judge Mahaz’s blogging.

Further examination into a large crack in the Meedhoo Island reef will be required as experts admitted that the long-term effects of the 13 metre fissure were unknown.

The discovery was made amid a mammoth 20 hectare reclamation project on the island conducted by Boskalis International. The Dutch company – currently conducting numerous projects in the country – came under this fire week for what local NGOs have called “environmental crimes” during its recent dredging activities.

The accusations did not stop authorities mooting Boskalis as the likely partner for the government’s second reclamation phase of the Hulhumalé development project.

Speaking at the launch of another Boskalis project in Thulusdhoo, President Abdulla Yameen urged the Anti-Corruption Commission to expedite stalled cases concerning infrastructure projects.

Reclamation projects could take on a new urgency should this week’s prediction from climate change experts prove true, as it was revealed that the collapse of antarctic glaciers has the potential to increase sea levels by 1.2 metres in coming centuries.

The completion of a Japanese sponsored solar energy project this week will be scant consolation to pessimists.

Pessimism regarding the buoyancy of the country’s democracy was evident in Transparency Maldives Democracy at Crossroads’ survey this week which revealed extraordinarily high levels of cynicism within the electorate.

Skepticism was also evident at the Human Rights Commission’s ‘National Inquiry on Access to Education for Children with Disabilities’ as parents questioned the state’s efforts to provide education to all.

The Capital Market Development Authority meanwhile was optimistic that the country can be developed into a global financial centre, while the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA)warned that further fiscal “slippages” would undermine the country’s debt sustainability.

The prospect of increased wage expenditure by the government receded once more, however, as the president returned the pay commission bill to the Majlis for the third time this week.

The MMA’s warning was not enough to prevent President Yameen pledging MVR1 million to the national football team, should it reach the last four of the AFC Cup – scheduled to start in Malé and Addu next week.

Visiting football fans who take a liking to the country’s southernmost atoll will soon be able to return to stay in one of the 2000 guesthouse beds that Addu City Council aims to develop via its Guesthouse Tourism Promotion Board.

Finally, suggestions by the US State Department that Maldivian authorities were aware of funds being raised for terrorism abroad were rejected, as were the Maldivian Democratic Party’s suggestions that the extremist ideologies were becoming prevalent within the security services.


Government exploring options for Hulhumalé reclamation project

The government is exploring options to commence the second phase of the Hulhumalé development project in the near future with Netherland’s Royal Boskalis Westminster a possible partner for the land reclamation component, Housing Development Corporation (HDC) Managing Director Suhail Ahmed has said.

Speaking to reporters yesterday (May 12) following activities to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Hulhumalé being declared an inhabited island, Suhail noted that a Boskalis dredger was currently in the Maldives.

“So that is also an option the government is considering that I know of. We are considering all options. [But] at the moment it is difficult to give a date,” Suhail said.

Boskalis has recently been accused of committing “serious environmental crimes” in the Maldives by a local environmental NGO after the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) found that regulations were violated in the Baa Eydhafushi reclamation work.

Boskalis was awarded a US$37 million four-island reclamation project by the government this year. The company has reclaimed 20 hectares in Dhaalu Atoll Meedhoo in March and 33 hectares in Baa Atoll Eydhafushi last week.

Work is ongoing on Kaafu Atoll Thulusdhoo while a date for reclamation in Dhaalu Atoll Kudahuvadhoo has not yet been announced.

Meanwhile, in January, HDC accepted bids from six companies – including Boskalis – for the second phase of the Hulhumalé development project, which involves reclaiming 230 hectares of land for development of further residential and commercial properties.

While the population of the artificial island is presently 30,000, Hulhumalé’s capacity is expected to increase to 100,000 with the completion of the second phase.

In July last year, HDC “conditionally awarded” the US$60 million reclamation project to Belgium-based Dredging International. The company however withdrew due to financial constraints.

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz told local media this week that the government hoped the reclamation project could commence in July with a decision by the Economic Council expected in the next two weeks.

“Youth village”

Developing a “youth village” in Hulhumalé with a population of 50,000 was a key campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen.

Speaking at an inauguration ceremony for the land reclamation project in Thulusdhoo earlier this week, President Yameen said the government’s objective was to relocate people from small islands in the atolls to Hulhumalé.

Economic opportunities in small islands were limited due to their size and isolation, he added.

The government hoped youth from smaller islands would migrate to Hulhumalé as well as other islands selected for land reclamation, Yameen said.

In April, Yameen said the HDC’s development plans were being revised to achieve the new administration’s goals.

The vision for the youth city includes a “technopolis park” as well as entertainment and sports facilities, he said, in addition to facilities for the tourism and fisheries industries.

“The youth village will not involve only housing [projects]. It will also include other projects related to the youth village such as the creation of light industries to provide job opportunities, as well as arrangements for food and beverages required by modern youth and restaurant facilities for [fast food],” he said.

HDC meanwhile organised an informal function yesterday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Hulhumalé’s habitation with a parade and children’s activities.

Hulhumalé schools and service providers participated in the activities.

HDC MD Suhail told the press that a formal event is being planned for a late date, which would recognise the contribution of various parties to the island’s development.


Boskalis begins Thulusdhoo reclamation

Netherland’s Boskalis International has begun a 33-hectare reclamation project on Thulusdhoo Island in Kaafu Atoll.

The MVR 570 million (US$ 37 million) four-island reclamation project has garnered controversy with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that environmental regulations were violated in the recent dredging on Baa Atoll Eydhafushi Island.

Excavators used a method called the rainbow technique which propels sand and seawater through the air in an arc covering houses on the shoreline in fine sand and seawater.

In March, the EPA also halted dredging on Dhaalu Atoll Meedhoo for failure to build a barrier to contain excess dredge soil from spilling into the ocean.

In addition to Thulusdhoo, Eydhafushi, and Meedho, Boskalis will also be reclaiming land in Dhaalu Atoll Kudahuvadhoo Island.


Six bids for US$60 million Hulhumale land reclamation project: Housing Development Corporation

The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) has conducted a pre-bid meeting with six foreign parties interested in carrying out the second phase of the Hulhumale’ land reclamation project, reports local media.

With a cost of US$60 million the project is the largest of its kind in the Maldives, and will involve 230 hectares of reclaimed area suitable for a population of 100,000, Sun Online reported.

“Bids should come before the end of this month. As soon as bid evaluation is complete, the project would commence”, an HDC official was quoted as saying.

Companies involved in the bid included those with previous experience in the Maldives, including Royal Boskalis Westminster, Sun reported.