Millions in environmental fines owed to government

The government is owed at least MVR45 million (US$2.9 million) in unpaid fines for environmental damage, an official audit has revealed.

The owner of a Thai fishing vessel that ran aground on the reef near Shangri-La Villigili Island Resort in November 2011 has failed to pay an MVR42.1 million (US$2.7 million) fine, according to the audit report of the then-Ministry of Housing and Environment for 2011.

The State Electricity Company (STELCO) still owes R3.3 million (US$214,000) following an oil spill in which a pipe buried under Malé’s ring road Boduthakurufaanumagu burst in March 2011, the report said.

The pipe leaked large quantities of oil into the track swimming area, frequented by schoolchildren and the public.

normal_Emerald_Reefer,Pan,19960501,ROTThe Thai fishing vessel, Emerald Reefer, was meanwhile beached for two months in the Muli Kolhu reef. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) said at the time that the reef was “destroyed” and was unlikely to recover in the near future.

Under environmental regulations, the boat’s owner was given 25 days to remove the boat before incurring a fine of RF700,000 (US$45,000) per day that the boat remained grounded.

EPA Director General Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News today that both fines have not been collected to date, adding that the agency was coordinating with the relevant authorities.

The Emerald Reefer fine was “pending” due to legal issues, he said.

“Those are the just the fines from 2011. There are lot more fines that haven’t been collected,” he said.

The audit office meanwhile recommended taking action in accordance with public finance regulations to collect the outstanding fines.

The fines were imposed during the final months of the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who resigned in February 2012, later saying he had done so under duress in what amounted to a coup.

In 2012, the then-President Dr Mohamed Waheed shifted the departments dealing with the environment – including the EPA – to the newly formed Ministry of Environment and Energy.

Among other cases highlighted in the report, the auditor general noted that the ministry spent nearly MVR70 million (US$4.5 million) for three infrastructure projects despite the funds not being allocated in the 2011 budget.

The projects involved installing revetments in Shaviyani Feevah, road construction in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi, and harbour construction for three islands in Addu City.

The ministry also paid a 30 percent advance payment to the contractor in the road construction project in violation of public finance regulations, the report said.

Aside from the flagged issues, the report stated that the ministry’s expenses in 2011 were legal and in line with public finance laws as well as the budget approved by parliament.

The new auditor general – appointed under controversial circumstances in November – has yet to release any reports on ministries under the current administration or the Waheed administration.


Released Thai Reefer reveals reef ruin as owners seek to reduce fine

The Thai fishing vessel Emerald Reefer has been removed from its beached location along the Muli Kolhu Faru reef near the Shangri-La Villingili Island Resort, where it ran aground in late November 2011.

After supporting the vessel for nearly two months, the reef area “looks destroyed” and is unlikely to recover in the near future, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said.

The Emerald Reefer came to the Maldives in November to purchase locally-caught fish in Addu Atoll, which has only a few narrow channels permitting entry. The reefer is one of only a few large vessels to run aground in the Maldives.

As per Maldivian law, the boat’s owner was allotted 25 days to remove the boat before incurring a fine of RF700,000 (US$45,000) per day that the boat remained grounded.

Transport Minister Adil Saleem previously told Minivan News that the owner had unsuccessfully attempted to remove the vessel, and had left the matter in the hands of an agent in the Maldives.

The Transport Ministry began issuing the fine on December 14, 2011. At that time the Ministry was considering options for removal aimed at protecting the reef, which it believed had been damaged on impact and was incurring further damage as tides rocked the ship along the reef.

Saleem today informed Minivan that the vessel, which is damaged but salvageable and currently floating at a fixed location in Addu, is still under the its owner’s remit. Saleem expected the owner would settle his debts with the Maldivian government before selling or removing his ship from Maldivian waters.

The issue is now being addressed by B&C Transport Services, which assumed responsibility for the vessel after the previous agent told Minivan News he had “given up”.

Company owner Kuwa Mohavay said the ship would return to Thailand with a full load of fish once a propeller had been repaired and its debt to the Maldivian government was settled.

“There are cases with the EPA and the Transport Ministry. We don’t know how much money is owed, but we believe the insurance company will cover most of the costs. We are also holding close negotiations with the government to reduce the fine,” Mohavay said.

He added that the government was keen to help the Thai vessel, “because [the Thai company] are the only people transporting our fish.”

Mohavay said B&C Transport had had positive interactions with the Transport Ministry and the Transport Authority, but felt the EPA had reacted unfairly to the matter.

The EPA assessed the site of the incident with the Coast Guard on Friday, January 6. Director Mohamed Naeem said the damage was substantial.

“The corals have been crushed, with large coral heads dislocated. The reef framework has also been crushed,” he said, noting that the destruction covered an area of approximately 70 meters. He added that parts of the equipment used to salvage the boat remained stuck in the reef.

“I do not believe the damage can be recovered in any short period of time,” he concluded.

Mohavay argued that the only piece of equipment used to salvage the boat was a cable, which had been removed from the reef, and that the boat had “not left any pollution”.

Naeem said the EPA’s assessment with the Coast Guard would be used to determine whether further action could be taken to improve the situation.

Coral reefs are home to a variety of marine life, and are essential for maintaining a healthy degree of biodiversity in Maldivian waters. However, scientists argue that they are being damaged by global warming.

Islanders in the Maldives have pointed out that the once-colorful reefs of their islands are now pale and weak, home only to the lowliest of fish. Residents of Guraidhoo in Male’ Atoll point out that their reef was destroyed when land was reclaimed to build resort Kandooma next door.


Thai vessel stranded on reef facing daily Rf700,000 fine, oil spill risk

The owner of Thai fishing vessel that ran aground on the reef along Shangri-La Villingili Island Resort last month will today be issued a Rf700,000 (US$45,400) fine per day for failing to salvage the boat within the legal 25-day period.

Transport Minister Adil Saleem said the fine was within the legal limit of Rf1 million. The 25-day resolution period expired yesterday.

Saleem said removal of the “Emerald Reefer” was attempted once with a tug in Addu, “but apart from that we have seen no activity or movement.” He added that the Transport Authority earlier ordered the owner to have all oil and other hazardous materials removed, “but we haven’t seen anything done in that regard.”

The ministry planned to alert the City Council and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) later today to be prepared for potential leaks or problems relevant to the grounded boat.

Saleem said that the issue was being handled by the Transport Authority and the boat owner’s appointed agent in the Maldives, which has been responsive and cooperative. However, if the owner fails to pay the fines the boat will be sold.

The Transport Authority earlier received a letter from the vessel’s Maldivian agent claiming that the owner is not attempting to salvage the boat, Haveeru reports.

“Unless it’s salvaged, it won’t be sellable,” Saleem continued. “It could become a disaster. The boat is sitting on the reef and moving a bit with the water, so there could be damage. But it can’t become a shipwreck and sink to the bottom. If it can’t be safely removed or salvaged it will be a big chunk of metal.

“We hope to remove it, but we haven’t found a process yet to do it safely,” he concluded.

“Emerald Reefer” was in Maldives to buy fish from locals. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Director General Ibrahim Mohamed didn’t know if navigational hazards led the boat off course, but believed that the ship was unfamiliar with Addu’s few and narrow routes.

“Usually ship captains know the routes, and this boat does not appear to have taken a normal route,” he said. “In Addu, there are only a few entry and exit points. This will bring more awareness to other ships who travel through that area as well.”

Mohamed said it had been a while since a boat ran aground in the Maldives; “in Addu, this is new.”

The EPA is currently working with the Transport Authority to manage the issue and control the potential for environmental hazards. Mohamed said the EPA has assessed the impact and is reviewing possible solutions, and will carry out a more extensive review next week with the coast guard.

“We advised the company to move the ship,” said Mohamed. “We have no idea of the damage.

“There is a lot of oil stored in the ship, but there is no risk yet. Unless the ship is damaged it is unlikely that oil will get into the reef area. But rough seas are rocking the vessel on the corals, so we expect to see some damage there.”