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.