No fall back for disaster of this magnitude: President Yameen

President Abdulla Yameen has spoken to the public for the first time regarding the Malé water crisis, saying that there could have been no fall back plan for such a crisis.

“We did not have any fall back plan for any disaster of this magnitude. However, we have done extremely hard work to try and bring the situation back to normal,” said the president.

Remarking that the extremely low odds of such an incident occurring had prevented the state-owned Malé Water and Sewerage Company from making plans to deal with the current situation.

Yameen said that five of the nine panel boards at the MWSC had now been fully repaired, estimating that the relief effort would cost US$20m million.

The Maldives’ capital was plunged into crisis on Thursday (December 4) as a fire at MWSC gutted the desalination plant, leaving 130,000 people without running water, leading to the dwindling of bottled drinking water supplies .

“I am not trying to make any excuses for the disaster at MWSC but the company was formed in the early 1980s. The design of the company and the water demand has changed with the population increase in Male.”

“There should be no difficulties with obtaining drinking water. However, there are problems with getting water for washing up and cleaning for people in high rise buildings,” said Yameen.

Large amounts of fresh water have been supplied via a number of international donors, who were thanked by the president.

“I would like to point out that even after some very difficult times for the foreign relations of the country, many nations are aiding the country in this heart wrenching time.”

The government will look into various ways to prevent such an occurrence maybe by dividing up the water grid by wards.”

Meanwhile, members of the president’s task force have told local media that the problem could not be fixed within a “politically desirable” timeframe.

In an interview with Haveeru, Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim said that it would take two weeks to completely recover from the crisis, saying that 50 percent of this would be achieved by the end of the week.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee said that, while MWSC has utilised a backup plan after the fire, a completely foolproof system was financially prohibitive.

“If we were to look for a 100 percent foolproof system, it would need to be built far from MWSC – in another area.  This occurred within one year this government came into power. We had been preparing for water security,” Shainee told Haveeru.

Minister at the President’s Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef told Minivan News earlier that the residents of Malé consumed around 14,000 metric tonnes of water a day, with the fully functioning plant able to produce around 20,000 tonnes.

The Maldives National Defence Force, working alongside volunteers from the public and civil society, continues to distribute water brought from abroad and from desalination plants on nearby islands.

Bangladesh became the latest country to announce it would send naval vessels with fresh water and desalination capacity, following the arrival of two Indian ships as well as the expected arrival of the Chinese navy.

The INS Deepak was the latest Indian ship to arrive, with 800 tonnes of water and the capacity to desalinate 200 tonnes per day. Deepak’s arrival follows ten Indian aircraft which have brought regular supplies of fresh water since Friday.

The Maldivian Red Crescent today received the first shipment of 5 tonnes of fresh water today, while the UN in Maldives has said that 180 tonnes stored under its premises in Malé requires treatment before it can be handed to the public.

Related to this story

Government seeks US$20 million in donations to repair Malé’s desalination plant

President Yameen to return to Maldives as water crisis enters third day

Indian aircraft arrives to ease Malé water crisis

Nasheed calls for inquiry into MWSC fire


Fisheries minister urges others to follow Maldives in banning shark fishing

Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee has urged participants of a one-day international workshop on ‘Conservation and Management of Shark Fisheries in Pakistan’ to follow in the footsteps of the Maldives and ban shark fishing.

Shainee inaugurated the conference at the Marriot Hotel in Karachi on Monday (September 15), which was organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) in collaboration with the Marine Fisheries Department of Pakistan.

“Shark fishing is completely banned in the Maldives in order to recover the declining population of sharks due to uncontrolled fishing methods,” Shainee was quoted as saying by the Express Tribune.

Shainee reportedly advised formulation of a ‘National Plan of Action’ regarding conservation and management of sharks in Pakistan.

According to Muhammad Moazzam Khan – former director-general of Marine Fisheries Department and WWF-Pakistan technical advisor – export of shark fins and meat from Pakistan declined from 50,000 tonnes in 1980 to 5,000 tonnes at present due to the decrease in shark population.

“Khan said that there are 144 shark species in Pakistan, adding that a few of them are endemic but their status is unknown. He said that the biology of about 35 species is regularly studied and there is an immediate need to declare at least some of the area as a shark sanctuary along the coast,” the Tribune reported.

“Hussain Sinan, of the Maldives Fisheries and Agriculture Ministry, discussed the ban on shark fishing in the Maldives and its impact on tourism. He claimed that shark population is increasing due to the ban in his country, adding that the same needs to be done in Pakistan.”

In 2012, the Maldives government assisted in a programme designed to retrain former shark fishermen in marine farming and aquaculture.


Fisheries minister to appear before Majlis for questioning

The minister of fisheries and agriculture has been summoned to the People’s Majlis to answer questions regarding government policy in Addu City, local media has reported.

Dr Mohamed Shainee is said to be appearing upon request of the Maldivian Democratic Party MP for Addu-Meedhoo Rozaina Adam, who also summoned the housing minister for similar questions last week.

The 2008 constitution empowers any member of the Majlis to summon any member of the government or cabinet to parliament for questioning, although the appearance of the Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz last week was the first such instance in more than two years.

The opposition expressed concern regarding the Majlis’ oversight capabilities after disputes over the composition of key standing committees, although a compromise was reached last week.


Government signs agreement with IPNLF to promote fisheries

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has signed an agreement with the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) to promote fisheries in the Maldives through a number of projects.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, IPNLF Director John Barton stated that the foundation will assist the Maldives in various projects to develop fisheries in the country, as well as in training fishermen.

Fisheries Minister Mohamed Shainee revealed that the ministry is currently undertaking projects worth US$283,000 with IPNLF.

He further said that under the programme, the VilliMalé Training Center will be handed over to the Fisheries Association within the next week.

Shainee noted that working with the IPNLF would facilitate promotion of Maldivian fisheries in European countries.


Fisheries ministry commences long line fishing training programme

The Fisheries Ministry has launched a training programme to teach long line fishing to youth in collaboration with the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO).

Briefing the press this morning aboard a vessel designed for long line fishing, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee said it was important for local fishermen to be active in all areas of the country to prevent encroachment by foreign vessels as the coastguard could not patrol the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“That would also reduce the illegal fishing from our waters. I believe with the [programme] starting today, our fishermen will go out further at sea, [which would] reduce the share of foreigners in long line fishing at present as much as possible, increase our productivity and create lots of new jobs for youth,” he said.

Long line fishing vessels travel 100 miles from the coast. In October 2011, Minivan News reported that the mass harvesting of fish stocks by foreign vessels was threatening the viability of the country’s tuna fishing industry.

Introducing long line fishing would lessen the dependency on one method of fishing, strengthen the industry’s resilience to external “shocks” and mitigate weakness of the fisheries industry, Dr Shainee said.

Long lining would also allow Maldivian fishermen to catch bigeye tuna, he added, which fetches a high price in the world market.

MIFCO Deputy Manager Ahmed Didi told reporters that the company’s target was to ensure that the youth who complete the training programme would have the capability to work in large yellowfin tuna fishing vessels “anywhere in the world”.

Ten fishermen from Haa Alif Hoarafushi were chosen for the first stage of the training programme, which was to be conducted by experts from MIFCO.

Dr Shainee also contended that long lining was the most environment-friendly method after the traditional pole and line fishing practiced in the country. The pole and line method has long made Maldivian tuna attractive to buyers from premium supermarkets in the UK and Europe.

Precautionary measures would be taken to reduce the impact on the environment, he added, explaining that new types of hooks were available to prevent by-catch of sharks and turtles.

In an interview with Minivan News last month, Dr Shainee noted that the fishing industry has felt the adverse effects of climate change caused by the rising temperature of surface waters.

If the surface water gets a bit hot, then the fish swims deeper. So we need to penetrate through that layer of the ocean to get access to the fish. That is why we have already introduced long line fishing. That is to diversify from just one way of fishing,” he explained.

“Again, we will be very vulnerable if we commit to just one form of fishery. It is a good sign that in terms of income, we are meeting expectations by value in yellowfin and skipjack fishery. So we already have diversified into two forms of fishing.”

Environmental concerns

The annual fish catch in the Maldives declined from approximately 185,000 tonnes of fish caught in 2006 to about 70,000 tonnes in 2011.

In early 2010, the steady decline prompted the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed to propose long lining as an alternative method.

In March 2010, the cabinet decided to allow long line fishing on the advice on the Fisheries Ministry.

Fishermen’s Union Chairman Ibrahim Manik told Minivan News at the time that “around 80 per cent of fishermen are against this new method, but the dire situation means there will be those who will adopt this.”

Manik said he expected Maldivian fishermen to be mindful of the ecological impact.

“Even now our fishermen will release any sharks they catch by mistake, so if our people do long lining they will be more careful,” he said.

An influential shark and marine conservation organisation from the UK, Bite Back, warned at the time that a boycott of long line tuna from the Maldives was a possibility if the government allowed long line fishing.

A year earlier, global retail giant Marks & Spencer announced it would no longer buy tuna that was not caught by pole and line.

However, director of private exporter Big Fish, Ali Riza, told Minivan News that the reaction of European consumers was hard to predict.

“It’s not us that overfished the waters, but now that it’s done, we are being told not to do what western countries had been doing,” he said at the time.

“We obviously can’t seal off our waters – fish are migratory. If we don’t do it others will overfish around us, so we might as well be the ones doing it.”


Q&A: Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee

Following a feature article on the status of the fisheries industry – in which Minivan News spoke to local fishermen about their various concerns, an additional interview was conducted with the concerned cabinet minister about these issues.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee spoke to Minivan News about his political career, and the policies and plans of his ministry.

Shainee was appointed to his position on November 19, 2013 – two days after the new administration came to office. This is his first appointment to a cabinet position.

Mariyath Mohamed: With agriculture and fisheries being such a major component of our economy, what are the main achievements you seek to fulfill in this five year term as a minister overseeing these sectors?

Mohamed Shainee: I believe, as you rightly pointed out that fisheries and agriculture are a major part of the economy. But at this moment, I don’t believe it is well-represented in the economy as a vibrant sector. So, in these five years, what I would like to achieve is incorporating the fisheries and agriculture sector into the very vibrant economy of the Maldives. What I mean to say is that the fisheries and agriculture sectors should both be able to stand alone on its feet, without injecting any subsidies into them. It will be quite an achievement if I am able to do this. Five years is a very short time to change the way we’ve been doing things in these two sectors for a very long time. So I believe it will be a very good achievement if I can complete at least part of it in these five years.

MM: This being you first time serving in a cabinet, what are the main challenges you face?

MS: As a cabinet member, I don’t think there are any challenges. But the country has gone through many phases of instability and that is still present in the social fabric of the country. So I think it will be a challenge to get people’s trust built in the government, because we have passed through five years of lots of instability in the government or country. So it will be very difficult for the people to believe that the government will do something that is good and more solid for the people. So I believe that it will be a massive challenge to assure the public that we will really, sincerely do what we have promised to the public. So I guess, as a cabinet problem, there will not be a challenge.

And from what we have seen so far, I believe that the opposition is also willing to give the government, to prove whether we can or cannot do the promises in our manifesto. So I believe that we are now at a stage where we have a healthy government and a healthy opposition, which really is necessary for a country to move forward.

I don’t think there are any challenges within the cabinet, as all the cabinet ministers are well-educated and have the background, the knowledge, and the drive to pursue fulfillment of the manifesto we have put forward for the people.

MM: The government’s pledges include providing an allowance of MVR10,000 a month to fishermen during lean months. How will the government implement this and when?

MS: I have already announced that in the first quarter of this year I will reveal guidelines of how this will be done. It’s very simple: the system is an insurance scheme. If you take a look at PPM’s manifesto, you will see that the first pledge in the fisheries section is to provide fishermen with an installment or some form of payment in the lean months. And then after policy number two, we have policy number three. This is where we talk of introducing new people to the profession and increasing productivity of fisheries. There we talk about our aims and visions, one of which is that there won’t be a single perceived fisherman – I mean, when we talk about fishermen, there is skipjack fishery and yellowfin fishery, so not all fishermen – but on average, every fisherman will get about MVR 10,000 per month for their wages. This is where both of these combine together and becomes the slogan “10,000 regardless of catch”. In fact, we have already put together the forms to open up a registry for this particular scheme. We already know how many fishermen there are in this country, but for this particular insurance scheme we need to open up a new register.

It’s very simple. If you look at the skipjack fishing statistics for last year, you will see three or four months which are very difficult for the fishermen. The real goal of this is sustainability.

So the aim of the government is to ensure that even during these difficult months fishermen stay in the industry. For that reason, during those few months we want to give a payment so that they can do their basic necessities, so they can fulfill their daily obligations towards their family.

The MVR10,000 scheme is a top-up system. We actually do not want to inject subsidies into the industry. That is what I said in response to your first question – that I want the industry to work on its own in a vibrant, active manner. If we start giving subsidies, we will always remain dependent on subsidies. As you well know, subsidies are an injection of capital into an area where things have gone a little out of the ordinary. So, we needed that kind of subsidy from 2004 onwards as the catch amounts had gone down. So yes, in those days we needed a subsidy to make fishermen remain in the industry.

But it is slowly catching up. In 2013 we have seen productivity increasing. So now we need to make the industry stand alone and be more vibrant and shock-proof to absorb these shocks. We need to devise a way to get people’s minds set on the idea that they can work in the industry.

The real reason is the sustainability of the fishermen in the industry to keep them in the field during this low season. This is because what we don’t want is for fishermen to turn to other sectors in these difficult months because we need the fishing industry to run as it does now and get further developed. That is the main idea behind this.

MM: President Yameen has announced that the ministry is compiling a register of existing fishermen. According to your statistics of 2012, there were 10,264 registered fishermen at the time of the report. What is the need for a completely new register, and how much time do you estimate it will take for the completion of this register?

MS: We do have a register, but we are not sure they are inclusive of all the fishermen. This is because always a registry is maintained for a service. And we have the subsidy for which they are automatically registered, so we know exactly how many fishermen there are.

But for this specific purpose, we need to build a new registry. We need a new registry for the insurance scheme as this will be done by a second party.

We are considering for this purpose the government fund management agency NSPA, for example, to deliver this service to fishermen.

MM: Many fishermen I have interviewed have raised concerns about the decreasing price of fish. Does the ministry have any plans to address this?

MS: Yes, that is true. Every year in this time when the supply increases, the demand goes down and so prices go down. But one thing we did not say in the manifesto this time is that we will give a set price to the fishermen. But for the same reasons I said before – that we want an economically viable system to be in place – what we have said is we will give the best price to the fishermen.

And to assure that, what we have done is we have put in clauses or actions in the manifesto to make it transparent – to let fishermen know that the price they are getting is exactly the best maximum price that they can get.

So for that reason, in the first few months of the government we have made a Fisheries Promotion Board to diversify our business to various markets. Insha Allah, I have gotten four countries interested – I’m looking into the arab markets, the Russian markets, the Chinese market and the Pakistani market, who are also very interested in diversifying.

So in fact, there is a lot of work being done in all these fronts to diversify markets, because what we cannot do is to rely on one specific market – which is the European market. I mean, the European market still is the largest and the biggest and the most important market for the country. But still, if we rely on one single market, any shock to that market will be felt very badly in the country here. So we are trying to diversify, that is one action.

The other thing is in this promotion board, for the first time, we have a fisherman in the board. This is to show to other fishermen that we are working on their behalf and that the price that they are getting really is the best price they can get. On top of that, even in the ministry website, we are now publishing the yearly rates of skipjack in the market. This, as well, is for the reason that we want fishermen to know they are getting the best price. So that when they go to any buyer, they can’t fool the fishermen now.

MM: You have said there is a fisherman on the Fisheries Promotion Council itself. How was he appointed?

MS: Yes. What we are trying to advocate from the ministry is for the formation of associations or co-operatives to voice for other fishermen, or vessel owners, or other sectors – to voice out through one body.

If I listen to one individual, and go to another island and listen to another fisherman, it will be totally different. Even in the same island, there will be different views. One way of doing it is for the vehicle to make the co-operatives.

At this time, in this country we have only one running organisation, which is the Fishermen’s Association. So we requested them to give us a candidate from the fisheries who is an active fisherman to be on the board. So so far we have only one that is functioning, and that is where we selected the fisherman from.

The fisherman on the board is from Alif Dhaalu Atoll, I believe. He is a skipjack fisherman and has sat in the past three or four sittings of the board.

MM: Another concern of numerous fishermen is the rising cost of fuel and ice, which in turn raises their overhead fees and brings down the profit they earn. While you have already said that the government wants to cut down on subsidies, what other plans does the state have to assist fishermen facing this issue?

MS: Yes, of course we are increasing the number of ice plants. In fact, one of the ice plants which has been idle for a few years now will be up and running in a few months time when we [open bidding on] this plant located in Thaa [Atoll] Guraidhoo. Insha allah, this will be done in the next few months.

And the other ice plant which, again, has been idle for the past three or four months is in Haa Alif [Atoll] Ihavandhoo. This will probably be starting from January 22 onwards. There are certain areas where we can reduce the price and one of the ways is by increasing the number of ice plants. Three ice plants will come in operation, insha Allah, this year.

What it actually does is it allows the fishermen to sell the fish at a higher price.

And unfortunately – I have to say unfortunately – the culture of the fishermen is they are very passionate about what they are doing. So if one of the fishermen builds a boat, the next one wants to build a bigger and nicer boat. So that has been an issue. We have been advocating that the increasing of fishing vessels to over a certain limit is not economically feasible. And already the fishermen have realised that ‘yes, we have a 35 tonne fishing boat, but how many days in a year does a fisherman actually catch 35 tonnes of fish?’

I think people will realise in time that we cannot keep increasing the size of the vessel and that we need an economic size. And we have shown through our ministry’s research that 85 feet is a manageable and economical size.

But now the real issue is that fuel prices have gone up and it will be difficult for us to stop that. But indirectly, the government is also working to get fuel at a cheaper price. In fact, the President His Excellency Abdulla Yameen has in his last visit had some negotiations with the Indian government to get fuel at a cheaper price. We are looking at other ways to land projects in the Maldives which will help us get fuel, diesel at better prices.

I am also on this committee in the government which has already started to explore for oil in the Maldives. So, these are long term, but indirectly we are trying to bring down the consumption or price of fuel in the country.

MM: The Malé City Council has announced that fishermen will have to take a special licence to sell their catch in stalls at the fishmarket. Which institution holds the mandate for this and does the Fisheries Ministry have any involvement in this?

MS: Like yourself, I am also confused in this area. We have a sort of tug of war going on between the council and the ministry and other institutions. But recently – about two or three weeks back – the council met with the ministry asking for our help in managing the fishmarket.

The truth is that until then we did not know what was happening on the other side. But now, after the new government came into place the council met with us and we are giving colloboration to the government.

In fact, I think it is today or next week we are planning to have training for the council members so that they know what the hygiene standards should be, what the methods are… And so we have requested them to give us the plan for the fishmarket so that we can give them the technical backing and advise them on how to build a market so that it is more hygienic.

So, I think it is a collaborative effort between the council and the ministry. We have a bigger role to ascertain that the public is safe and getting the right fish, so that everything goes smoothly. On the other hand, the council has the municipal right over the market. I think we can do this hand in hand. I believe this will happen now much better as things are happening much better now than a few months before.

MM: Are you supportive of the council’s initiative to lease stalls at the fishmarket?

MS: What I heard from the council, which is the truth, is that there a lot of issues in the fishmarket. And one way of always managing is through licenses or some mechanism where you have power over whom you allow and whom you don’t allow. So that might be a good idea.

But I don’t think it should be at a rate which is difficult for the fishermen. It should be a nominal fee just for the registration. It should just be a management fee, and not for business purposes. I think the idea – I don’t know, I haven’t heard from the council – but I believe the idea is to create a managed system rather than an open system. I think it should be that way. So that it is well-managed and not just anyone can go and do unhygienic practices there.

MM: What are the main countries that fish are exported to, via the state enterprise MIFCO and otherwise? What are the challenges faced in exportation of fisheries products in recent days?

MS: The EU is by far the biggest market, especially for yellowfin tuna. But apart from that, the industry also exports to the US, as well as some to Canada, to Japan, and other markets as well. I don’t have all the details of it at the moment but the EU is the biggest market, as well as the US then. And Japan is also another market to which we export certain type and grade of fish.

On the other hand, skipjack tuna is mainly exported to Bangkok. But if they are value-added, processed, then the can again goes to Europe, so that remains our main market.

MM: The president has appealed to the British high commissioner to impress upon the EU the importance of extending GSP plus facilities to the Maldives again. What do you think the chances of this happening are?

MS: I think it can be done, because I think in the past EU and Maldives have had a good relationship as countries. So I don’t think it is impossible for this to happen. It’s just more about bilateral relations and understanding.

I mean, looking at one side, the European market or consumer will be affected from this as well. There will a lot of pressure from the consumer’s side, as when prices of fish go up, it’s not just us carrying the burden, but also the consumers. So I think there will be a lot of pressure.

I think there will be a lot of pressure because when you look at Europe, people are more educated and want these kinds of niche products.

Maldives is the only country that doesn’t catch by-catch fish. We are dolphin free. We are catching one by one. We are the most green fisheries industry in the world, in fact. So I am sure the consumers in the European market would like to get something from this side of the world which is more green and environmental friendly.

There is no reason why it can’t be done. I think as an Islamic country – a Muslim country – we have worked together well in the past. There’s no reason why we can’t.

MM: Being a low lying island state, the Maldives is vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change. What do you see as the threats of climate change to the fishing industry? Is the ministry taking any steps to counter them?

MS: I think what we have felt in the past is actually part of this changing of the climate. And for us, it would be the change in the temperature of the surface water. Because we are very environmentally friendly fishermen who catch fish from the surface waters.

If the surface water gets a bit hot, then the fish swims deeper. So we need to penetrate through that layer of the ocean to get access to the fish. That is why we have already introduced long line fishing. That is to diversify from just one way of fishing.

Again, we will be very vulnerable if we commit to just one form of fishery. It is a good sign that in terms of income, we are meeting expectations by value in yellowfin and skipjack fishery. So we already have diversified into two forms of fishing. This is one of the ideas.

Another idea or another front we are working on is mariculture and aquaculture, which also is a way to minimise the impacts on the natural fishery that we have. This is because, from what we have seen, it is more seasonal, – about a ten year cycle. But even in those times, to reduce the impact of climate related issues, we need to diversify fisheries. That is what they policy is.

MM: What are the main challenges besides environmental, faced by the fishing industry, as well as the ministry, and what are the state’s plans to deal with them?

MS: The biggest challenge is actually the budget. As you know, over the years, the government has acquired a lot of debt. And that is a challenge for the government and one of our pledges is that by the third year we will get rid of the debt.

So during these two years, it will be harder to fund any of the projects from the government’s side, so we have to find innovative ways to do so. And that we are already doing. I mean, the ministry’s plan has not decreased because we don’t have sufficient funds. But there are ways we can do this. And that’s why the government’s plan is to enable the industry to become a more vibrant industry rather than the government doing business.

So we have already given up on a lot of the businesses that we do, and we are promoting that the private partners should come and invest, and we will give them concessions so that we work in hand in hand to get what is required.

So the biggest challenge, I think, for the ministry, the government and the whole country, is the cash flow issue and the tightness of the budget.