Missing man discovered in dinghy 900 miles from Maldivian waters

A Maldivian national reported missing earlier this month after leaving the island of Fares-Maathoda in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll in a dinghy has been discovered by a foreign vessel 900 miles from Maldivian waters.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) confirmed that Mohamed Falah, a 30 year-old man from Fares-Maathoda reported missing since May 9, had been found in “good condition” by the crew of a foreign vessel travelling to Malaysia.

The announcement of Falah’s rescue comes as authorities continue to advise members of the public to take precautions during sea travel – particularly over long distances – following “extreme weather” reported across the Maldives this month.

The MNDF has said searches are continuing for three other men thought lost at sea.

MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem said authorities had initially been informed of Falah’s rescue through his family, before contacting the foreign vessel that discovered him.

He added that the Maldivian national was expected to arrive in Malaysia on the vessel on Saturday (May 25).

Falah’s wife Fathimath Nazeefa told local newspaper Haveeru that she spoken to her husband today, explaining that he was in “good condition” and had been well treated by the crew who rescued him.

Local media reported that Falah went missing after travelling from Fares-Maathoda to a nearby island to collect gravel needed for construction purposes.

“Necessary precautions”

Following concerns about extreme weather patterns, the Maldives Coast Guard last week published an announcement requesting “all travellers 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.”

Colonel Raheem said today that the MNDF was continuing to work with the Maldives Department of Meteorology to try and keep the public better aware of weather patterns in order to prevent further cases of vessels drifting and becoming lost in local waters.

“We cannot say that the condition with the weather is now ok, but it is certainly better at times,” he said.

Raheem said that the coastguard therefore continued to stress that anyone attempting sea travel should take precautions before a voyage.

He said that the MNDF Coast Guard therefore encouraged members of the public to contact its toll-free number 191 to get more information on suitable times for their journey.

“We welcome everyone to call the toll-free number and check the weather before they depart. We also encourage them to contact us if they are leaving on a long distance journey and also notify us when they arrive,” Raheem said.

Rescue attempts

The MNDF has said operations were continuing to locate three other men reported lost at sea this month, despite previously halting aerial search and rescue operations.

Speaking Monday (May 20), Colonel Raheem said that search and rescue operations for four men lost at sea – which at the time had included Mohamed Falah – were being downgraded.

He said at the time that although aerial operations have ceased, the reduced search efforts were being continued. An Indian Navy aircraft was previously assisting the MNDF Kurangi Helicopter with aerial search and rescue operations, but had recently departed the Maldives.

The three men still missing include Mohamed Sammoon, a 21 year-old surfer from Kolamaafushi Island in Gaafu Alif Atoll, who was reported missing around 4:30pm on May 4 after entering the ocean with a surfboard and being swept away by the current.

Two fisherman, identified as 39 year-old Hassan Rasheed from Maamigili Island in Alif Dhaalu Atoll and 32 year-old Abdulla Waheed from Maavashu Island in Laamu Atoll were also reported missing the same day along with the fishing vessel “Azum”.

The two crewmen and the 40 foot light-green fishing boat disappeared after departing from Mulak Island in Meemu Atoll en route to Maavah Island in Laamu Atoll, Sun Online reported.

With searches ongoing for the three men, Colonel Raheem said today that the coastguard had not presently received any additional reports of members of the public being lost in Maldives waters.

“There have been small incidents, but these are not major concerns,” he said.

Adverse weather

Hussein Waheed from the Maldives Department of Meteorology said extreme weather experienced over the last month was expected to improve over the next week.

“Right now we are still having rain, though we expect quite fine weather within the next three to four days,” he said.

Waheed added that adverse weather conditions this month been the result of the “early onset” of the traditionally wet South-West monsoon at the same time that a cyclone had formed in the Bay of Bengal area. The cyclone had since moved north-west towards India, the Maldives Department of Meteorology added.


Parliament endorses MP Mutthalib for Clemency Board

Fares-Maathoda MP Ibrahim Mutthalib has been endorsed as the parliamentary representative at the Clemency Board.

He received 40 votes in favor, and 23 against.

Hulhu-Meedhoo MP Ilyas Labeeb had nominated Kendhikulhudhoo MP Ahmed Easa to the post, but the nomination was rejected with 35 votes in favor and 36 against.

Mutthalib was nominated by Kela MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom following Galolhu-South MP Ahmed Mahloof’s resignation. Mahloof cited inefficiency and pressure to release inmates as grounds for leaving the board, Haveeru reports.

The Clemency Boards was established in March 2010 in accordance with Article 9 of the Clemency Act.


Central and southern atolls hit by high swells

South and central atolls in the Maldives have been hit by high swell waves in the past 48 hours, according to the Maldives Meteorological (MET) Service, causing minor flooding in some islands.

A duty forecast officer at the MET department said that islands in Addu, Gaaf Alif, Gaaf Dhaal, Thaa, Laamu and Raa Atolls were affected by the swells but not much damage had been reported.

“It happens every year but we have not noticed a pattern in this year’s incidents so far,” he explained.

The forecast officer added that while some swells might hit central and south atolls today, the waves are expected to subside in coming days.

According to MET, highest tide levels is expected between 4:30pm and 8.30pm today.

The island of Fares-Maathoda in Gaaf Alif Atoll, one of the islands struck by high swells, suffered minor flooding yesterday as waves broke over the island.

An islander told Minivan News that the flooding was exacerbated by the reclamation of a shallow passage linking the two islands of Fares and Maathoda in the 90s to create a small harbour.

The resident of Fares-Maathoda explained that before the reclamation, waves would pass over the narrow passage of sea.

“But now that it is blocked, the waves break in the area and sometimes flood the island,” he said.

In April this year, 5 million Danish Krone (Rf12 million) was donated by the Danish government for climate change adaptation in Fares-Maathoda, including use of the funds to continued flooding resulting from drainage and waste management issues.

Meanwhile in a visit to the National Disaster Management Centre (NMDC) today to inquire after the damages caused by the waves, Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed urged the relevant authorities to immediately report all occurrences of tidal surges and environmental hazards to the NMDC.


Fear and acclimatisation in Fares-Maathoda

In the first part of a special report from the island of Fares-Maathoda, Minivan News looks at the challenges for communities developing beyond Male’s glance as they attempt to switch to decentralised governance and overcome their natural vulnerabilities.

If the rate of development in the Maldives could be measured in the availability of Lavazza-branded espresso, then the conjoined islands of Fares-Maathoda in the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, while offering a very warm welcome, remain an instant coffee type-of-place.

With its sparsely populated community estimated at about 1000 people, the island is dense with jungle vegetation that rests alongside inhabited and incomplete homes, while crabs on the beach nestle between piles of coconut husk, used food wrapping and milk cartons amidst views of an apparently endless blue horizon.

The relatively unique geography of the islands could be said to reflect a wealth of challenges facing the wider country regarding waste management, coastal protection and economic development.

Since being formed back in the 1990’s via reclaimed land over a shallow passage of water linking the two islands in an attempt to create a small craft harbour for its residents, the UN has cited concerns from Fares-Maathoda’s residents that flooding has been made worse and far more frequent as a result.

While the islands may not specifically serve as a microcosm for the nation’s delicate beauty and democratic reform process, UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox said he believed that Fares-Maathoda was very typical in reflecting the Maldives’ vulnerability to natural elements as well as the development needs of its people.

“This counts as a vulnerable island; vulnerable economically and all the other issues that come along with that,” he said. “People make their money off fishing here and there are not a lot of other options or a strong tourism industry in the area. So you don’t get people earning money and bringing income in that way. One of the things that research shows is that islands or communities do very well if their livelihoods are good and if they are well organised.”

Since coming to power, President Mohamed Nasheed has garnered huge international coverage, as well as foreign accolades for his attempts in trying to champion the Maldives as a small nation working towards becoming a fully sustainable economy. Yet at island level, how are these commitments being seen?

Cox added that the time had perhaps come for government to be more inward looking by opening up national debate and understanding of what climate change could mean for the Maldives on an everyday basis.

“The president has been exceptional at selling climate change issues to the world. Yet I think the Maldives will benefit at every level through a basic of understanding what [climate change] is going to mean for the country and how it is that decisions are going to be made in the future about what are the best chances for economic growth. Where is it that people are going to be living? How are they going to be living?” he said. “All these things I think could be and must be fleshed out. I think it could be a very interesting national dialogue to have. There has been a certain amount already, but this about the future in the Maldives.”

Cox himself, along with representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, the Ministry of Housing and Environment, the National Office and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) visited Fares-Maathoda on April 12 to meet with local councilors, and outline how Danish donor aid for funding climate change adaptation would be allocated on the island.

The allocated funding, which totals 5 million Danish Krone (Rf12 million) will be put into a scheme to support a wider number of future development projects targeted at offsetting the potential impacts on the country from climate change and rising sea levels. On Fares-Mathooda, some of the funds are being set aside for drainage and waste management projects.

Beyond president Nasheed’s international sustainability pledges, positioned on the other side of the country, and indeed the political spectrum, Fares-Mathooda, which elected five councillors into power from the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) in February’s local council elections, claims to have a great need for assistance in reducing its vulnerability to the sea and the elements.

Speaking to Minivan News, councillor Hussain Rasheed claimed that aside from the long-term threats of rising seas and freak natural disasters such as the 2004 Asian Tsunami, seasonal occurrences such as high tides were proving to be problematic for the island’s development.

The low-lying nature of the island had meant that storms and tidal swells were major problems for residents on the Fares side of the island, whom had in the past been forced to vacate to the Mathooda side for safety in certain circumstances.

“This is a very big problem, for instance, many people suffered psychologically when there was a tidal wave, and with many people affected, we needed a lot of assistance to relieve this suffering,” he said.

An engineer present at the meeting, as one of the bidders hoping to work on the climate change adaption projects for Fares-Mathooda, claimed that the low-lying geography of the island meant that waves of even a metre in height posed a huge flooding risk. The engineer added that the problem was made worse by the reclaimed land between the two formerly separate islands that had since been combined physically and administratively, limiting natural drainage options for water building up on the land.

In trying to address these concerns, Andrew Cox said that it was vital to focus on the specific vulnerabilities facing a community, island or an entire atoll in the case of the Maldives, rather than solely looking at large scale energy investments in a bid to provide national solutions to environmental and coastal management.

“What is it that people need? That is the bottom line,” he said. “People have been talking about climate change for a long-time, but it has been mostly focused around international negotiations to try and reverse carbon into the atmosphere. But so far there has not been an international deal,” he said.

Cox added that this failure for international agreement still hadn’t dampened interest from politicians, donors and NGOs in being seen to be “doing something” about climate change around the world.

“The big question that I think the Maldives can answer about climate adaption is, how do you do that? In real life what do these changes mean?” he asked.

According to Cox, like almost every other nation in the world, the Maldives does not have any large-scale examples of climate change programmes, but rather a great deal of smaller pilot projects designed to try and limit potential vulnerability to environmental changes. This he said, was often seen in a variety of areas such as water or waste management.

The UN representative said these smaller projects might be present on a number of islands in the form of different waste management projects that resulted in various levels of success.

“The central concept that we need to talk about and agree, is what happens when you bring all these things related to climate change together in one place? How do you make a material change in the vulnerability of one atoll?” he asked. “Even an atoll is too small, because the Maldives doesn’t have that much time, but you have to start somewhere. You take an atoll and see what it needs as a whole to get from point X on the vulnerability scale to point Y, which is hopefully above the minimum level of security.”

Just as important though, according to the UN Representative, would be the country’s attempts to overcome poverty through economic development measures, reducing a country’s vulnerability beyond investing in infrastructure alone.

“This is a concept that makes a lot of sense, but it hasn’t been done. The exciting thing for the Maldives is if you can go down that path, you can show donors the way. This will hopefully benefit the Maldives as well as international projects as well,” he said.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean all the answers will be here, but a lot of them might be.”