Extreme weather compels emergency relief from Maldives’ government

Maldivian government authorities are providing emergency services and relief funds to island communities battered by three weeks of “extreme weather”.

The National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) issued a statement today (May 15) urging island and atoll councils to report any damage caused by the “harsh weather” as soon as possible.

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik met with officials from the Maldives Police Service, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), the NDMC, and other high-ranking government officials yesterday (May 14) to discuss damages sustained and relief counter measures being taken nationwide.

Waheed provided assurances that government authorities will collaborate with island communities to provide “all the assistance and support needed”. Thus, it was decided state funds will be provided to assist “those islands with maximum damage” through the Ministry of Finance and Treasury’s contingency budget.

State funds will not be released directly to NDMC, instead the Finance Ministry will maintain control of money allocated for relief efforts and “coordinate bills” with the centre, NDMC Project Director Hisan Hassan told Minivan News today.

The exact amount of emergency relief funds will be determined today, Hassan added.

Meanwhile, the MNDF and police have issued precautionary warnings to the public due to the severe weather conditions.

The Coast Guard issued a request yesterday that “all travelers to take necessary precautionary measures before setting on their journeys due to the severe weather with heavy rain and thunderstorms… particularly in the northern and southern regions of the Maldives.”

They recommended travelers test communications sets and obtain updated weather forecasts before embarking on any journeys.

The Coast Guard further stated that average wind speeds of 15-25 miles per hour (mph) in the southern atolls and 7-17 mph are expected in the northern atolls, while wind gusts during thunderstorms will reach 40-50 mph.

Additionally, the police issued an SMS bulletin today also warning the public to “take precautionary measures due to the bad weather”.

A “white bulletin” was also issued by the Maldives Meteorological Service (MET) today, warning that the central atolls can expect average winds speeds of 23-30 mph.

Food shortages and flooding

Thus far damage assessment reports have been submitted by 12 islands from seven atolls – Shaviyani, Meemu, Dhaalu, Thaa, Laamu, Fuvahmulah, and Addu City – representing regions from the far north to the far south of the Maldives, the NDMC told Minivan News today.

Hassan explained that other islands have reported storm-related damage directly to the media or have spoken with the NDMC, but have yet to official report these issues to the centre.

Flooding due to three weeks of severe weather and heavy rain has damaged households, sewerage systems, as well as caused extensive agricultural destruction, according to Hassan.

Food shortages on some islands have resulted from agricultural damage and the disruption of transportation and supply networks due to bad weather.

“All islands import food from Male’, however the seas have been so rough [supply] boats are still in Male’ and unable to reach the islands,” Hassan explained. “Yesterday the State Trading Organisation (STO) announced the they will try to send [food supplies] somehow.”

STO is not providing free food-stuffs to islands, rather they are seeking ways to reach the islands so community shops can restock. Normally, supply boats travel between the atolls at least twice a week, according to Hassan.

“Some small islands’ [residents] are a little afraid to travel to a nearby island [to resupply] because travel is difficult,” he said.

Hassan emphasised that food shortages have not reached “emergency situation” levels.

“For the time being there is no emergency. If an island completely runs out of food, the MNDF is always on board [collaborating] with STO and NDMC, and will send vessels,” said Hassan.

The MNDF and police will deploy and provide first response emergency services, if necessary, he added.

“The MNDF is also assisting with flood relief. They take fire fighting equipment to islands and help pump water,” said Hassan.

“Houses are flooding because they are not built on high platforms, so with one or one and a half feet of flooding, water will rush into homes,” he added.

Hassan emphasised the need for people to “take responsibility” and precautionary measures to ensure their safety in the bad weather conditions.

“They should not wait until flood waters reach knee-high levels and require the MNDF to provide assistance,” Hassan said.

“People should move [their] belongings to higher ground, get rid of old trees and branches, clean their roofs, and collect rainwater in tanks. Also, sandbags should be used to minimise further flooding,” he added.

Ensuring roofs and houses are secure is also essential given the strong winds that have accompanied the recent severe storms.

The NDMC is coordinating with the relevant ministry’s to ensure damages are evaluated and addressed promptly.


Strong storms and rough seas cause nationwide damage

Stormy weather conditions – heavy rain, harsh winds, and rough seas – over the past week have caused damage to islands throughout the Maldives.

In the south the island of Fuvahmulah has suffered the most damage, said Minister of State for Defence and National Security and head of the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC), Ahmed Mohamed.

“The harsh winds that hit Fuvahmulah yesterday afternoon blew off roofs. A large coconut tree had fallen on top of house and a large tree had fallen on top of the council office. There is additional damages as well. An estimate of damages is now being assessed,” Mohamed said.

He also noted that heavy rains have led to a food shortage, flooding and property damage on Thinadhoo Island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

“In Thinadhoo, some of the roofs of houses were blown off due to strong winds. Heavy rain had caused flooding throughout the island. The flood water had seeped into the houses damaging people’s property. We are also receiving reports that they are short of food,” said Mohamed.

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, Rashgetheemu Island in Raa Atoll suffered damage from a lightning storm on April 27 which left all electronic systems within the Island Office “useless”, equipment inside the island’s health centre and power house damaged. Additionally, some electronic devices in private homes were harmed, as well as the island’s banana plantations, Island Council Vice President Ali Hameed told local media today (May 9).

The Maldives Meteorological Service has forecasted thunderstorms throughout the country, concentrated in the central and south, over the next 24 hours, with rough seas, and strong winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour. They have also issued warnings about flooding due to storm surge and tidal waves, particularly during high tide.


Fire causes MVR 2 million worth of damage

Over MVR 2 milllion (US$128,700) worth of damage has been predicted by the owners of ‘Parkway 3’ shop, after a fire damaged the building on Saturday (March 9).

Director of Golden Lane – the company that operates Parkway 3 – Abdulla Saeed told local media that the fire had damaged the interior of the building and large quantities of furniture.

“The ground and first floors are used as a show room. The fire ignited in a store room on the first floor. Nobody accesses that area.

“That’s where the fire ignited and the first floor sustained some damages, the fire caused large damages to the building too. The ceiling was also burned,” Saeed told  SunOnline.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) firefighters attended the scene on Saturday, extinguishing the fire around 4.00pm.

Saeed said that attempts by MNDF to extinguish the fire meant that the area had to be hose with large amounts of water, which had then caused water to drip down onto the furniture placed below the ground floor.

The MNDF were reported by local media to have geared up two ‘known’ activists of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) with gas masks and oxygen tanks at one point, before leading them into the burned building.

One of the affected offices, according to local media, had been used by PPM in previous instances, and had also been used by the former PPM deputy leader for his own personal business.

According to Sun Online, the two PPM activists went inside the building to retrieve some ‘very important objects’, but it was not clear what those objects were.


Government issues MVR 62.7 million compensation claim for stranded ship reef damage

The government has issued a MVR 62.7 million (US$ 4 million) compensation claim for damages caused to the coral reef on Male’s east coast by a stranded cargo ship.

Earlier this month (January 7) a 27,000-ton vessel called ‘Auguste Schulte’ became stranded in shallow water while attempting to make a turn near the coast of the Raalhugandu area in Male’.

Tug boats, assisted by the Maldives National Defence Force, were able to refloat the 213 metre long ship after a three-hour effort, local media reported.

A subsequent investigation by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) calculated the damage to the reef to be worth MVR 62,733,800, Chairman of the Transport Authority Abdul Rasheed Nafiz told Minivan News.

“[Auguste Schulte’s local operator] Silver Company can either pay the fine to the government so the ship can continue its voyage or pay a bank guarantee should they wish to carry out their own investigation and let the ship leave.

“From what I understand, [Silver Company] intend to carry out their own survey and through that they will try negotiate the compensation claim cost,” Nafiz added.

The Transport Authority Chairman said that the Attorney General had stated under the Environment Protection Law that the government has the right to assess the damage to reef and calculate the cost of such damage.

The Transport Authority earlier stated that the government could impose a fine of MVR 85,000 (US$ 5,508) per square metre of damage caused to the reef.

Mohammed Nabeel, Managing Director of Silver Company, told local media that the company had begun efforts to try and secure the bank guarantee that currently stood at $4 million.

“We are trying to make sure that the ship departs as soon as possible. We do believe that there must be a fine in this matter, but the government has also said that there is room for negotiation,” he was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

Nabeel added that the company was also trying to assess the damages caused by the stranded vessel, and that negotiations will be based on their findings, local media reported.

Previously, a ship operated by Delmas – the same company local media reported to have owned Auguste Schulte – became stranded in the same area for 20 days.

Nabeel told local media that the compensation claim for that previous ship was set at MVR 4.5 million (US$ 291,828), adding that the contrast between the two figures is “remarkable”.

Responding to these comments, Nafiz said that the EPA has produced a report on the latest damage and Silver Company will be able to compare the two incidents as the conclusion is based on “the same formula”.

Environment Protection Agency were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.


Police submit cases to PG alleging damage to Alifushi police station on Feb 8

Police on Monday submitted cases to the Prosecutor General (PG) against 24 individuals charged with damaging the police station on Alifushi in Raa Atoll, and obstructing police work during the February 8 protests.

Police stated that the 24 individuals were charged for forcefully entering the police station around 7.45pm on the night of February 8, threatening officers on duty, forcing them to evacuate the premises, damaging the station building and for obstructing the police service.

The 24 people charged includes 20 men from the island of Alifushi itself. They are: Hassan Ahmed, 30, Velaanaage; Hassan Nashid, 30, Fasaanaa; Nail Abdulla, 25, RoashaneeAage; Muaviyath Abdul Latheef, 30, Scenery; Ahmed Mohamed, 22, Seny; Ismail Saif, 26, HabibiHap, Moosa Niyaz, 27 and Abdulla Niyaz, 24, Snow; Ali Fayaz, 31, Malaaz; Fazal Ibrahim, 19, NightHouse; Abdul Majid Moosa, 33, Hudhuasurumaage; Adam Shareef, 41 and Ibrahim Shareef, 29, VareyVilla; Abdul Hameed, 55, SameeVilla; Yameen Ibrahim, 26, Panama; Ishaq Adam, 28, Moonlight; Faruhadh Mohamed, 33, and Abdul Hafeez Mohamed, 27, HusnooVilla; Ahmed Riyaz, 21, Redfish, Shiyan Ibrahim, 28, Niuma.

The other four men are Mohamed Ramzy, 24, Shifana Villa, Lhaviyani Atoll Lhaimagu; Ahmed Giyas, 26, Berebedhimaage, Lhaviyani Atoll Naifaru; Hassan Simah, 30, Giyarest, Haa Dhaalu Atoll Neykurendhoo and Mohamed Ziyau, 26, of Samantha, Raa Atoll Rasgetheemu.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that police were looking into damage caused to police stations across all areas of the Maldives on February 8. He confirmed that police were not investigating damage caused to the police and MNDF headquarters by police and civilians on February 6-7, stating that “it makes no sense for police to look into this matter ourselves.”

Haneef said instead that the damage would be investigated under procedures determined by the government.

Local news sites have previously reported that in addition to damages to police offices, the state has submitted 409 cases concerning charges of arson on February 8 to the PG.

Meanwhile the Police Integrity Commission in its report into the events of February 6-7 stated that they had found in their investigations that ‘some among the police officers gathered in the Republican Square” had caused damage to the police headquarters, further stating that these would be treated as separate offences.

Minivan News tried contacting President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and the Vice Chair of the Police Integrity Commission, Abdulla Waheed, but neither was responding to calls at the time of press.


Repair work commences on Dhiraagu submarine cable

Dhiraagu has reportedly commenced work this afternoon on repairing a damaged section of submarine cable off the Sri Lankan coast responsible for disrupting the company’s internet services in the Maldives over the last week.

Local media has reported that repair work on the cable began at around 2pm this afternoon in a collaboration between Dhiraagu technicians and engineers from Sri Lankan Telecom (SLT).

Commencement of the repair work has been dependent on the arrival of a specially equipped ship called the Asean Explorer, which completed its journey from India to Sri Lanka yesterday.  It is not known yet how long repairs may take, though Dhraagu claims it has continued to work on strengthening services and capacity for its internet clients.

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the company said it did not wish to speculate on the possible cause of the damage to the submarine cable that connects Dhiraagu’s Maldivian broadband network to the wider world.


Dhiraagu reveals cable repair vessel to arrive April 25, discusses compensation

Dhiraagu has said it does not wish to speculate on a date for the completion of repairs to a damaged section of submarine cable that has severely impacted its internet services over the last week.

The local telecoms group said that until repair work commences on April 25, the company would not be able address the scale and cause of the damage to a section of cable based 26 kilometres from the Sri Lankan coast.  However, a spokesperson stressed to Minivan News that the cause of damage to the cable was being seen as an “accident” at present.

Company Chief Executive Ismail Rasheed today told local media that Dhiraagu would be providing compensation for customers affected by the disruption to its internet services as it works to increase capacity.

Dhiraagu has been looking for so called “diversity routes” since the damage occurred to the cable last Wednesday (April 18), forcing it to provide a “degraded” service to its internet customers,  whilst prioritising e-mail and browsing services.

Dhiraagu added that as part of a national agreement, telecoms rival Wataniya would be assisting in providing data capacity from its own unaffected submarine cable.  The company has said that is is also working to strengthen its satellite operations for international phone services.

Asean Explorer

Company spokesperson Imjad Jaleel has told Minivan News that the Asean Explorer vessel equipped to enact repairs on submarine cables was still expected to leave India on Tuesday before arriving in Sri Lanka the next day.

According to the company, the damage has been located to a section of cable situated 40 metres below the Sri Lankan waters. The cable itself connects Sri Lanka directly to the island of Huhlumale’. From Hulhumale’, this signal is then carried across the country’s scattered atolls.

Spokesperson Imjad stressed that the company would not yet be speculating on a date for full services to resume until it could offer more detailed information to its customers.

The damage sustained to its cable was still being considered an “accident”, possibly resulting from an errant anchor, he added.

The company claimed that preliminary testing had shown that the damage was not believed to have resulted from earth quakes or other geological occurrences, leaving anchoring ships as the most probable cause.

According to Imjad, the cable itself is situated in one of two areas in Sri Lankan waters specifically set aside for the country to house its underwater communications cables. In these areas, the anchoring of ships is not permitted, he added.

“We believe that there could have been an accident with an anchor perhaps accidentally being dropped in these waters, but we will only be able to asses fully on April 25,” Imjad claimed.