Government “indifference” to Addu ferry services discriminatory, says Meedhoo MP Rozaina

The government’s “indifference” to providing regular ferry services in Addu City has been described as discrimination towards smaller islands by Addu Meedhoo MP Rozaina Adam.

“If a ferry service in Malé is interrupted, the government rushes to reestablish it. But if it is the islands they it is allowed to go on for long periods. This is a huge discrimination,” she said.

There have been no regular ferries in Addu City for the past two years and the service is frequently on complete halt at times, said Addu City Mayor Mayor Abdulla ‘Soabe’ Sodiq.

Many are forced to take expensive private boats, while in medical emergencies people usually hire a speed boat for approximately MVR 2500 – double that rate at night.

Hulhumeedhoo, with an estimated population of over six thousand, is disconnected from the rest of the inhabited islands of the city which are joined by the 14km Addu Link Road causeway.

The Hulhumeedhoo-Feydhoo public ferry system had been established in 2009 as part of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government’s campaign to connect the Maldives through a public transport network.

The service is provided by MVK Maldives Pvt Ltd under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract. Many inhabitants of Hulhumeedhoo travel to Feydhoo for work and to visit Hithadhoo Regional Hospital.

Rozaina Adam also expressed concern that inconsistent services were damaging both the health and the finances of locals.

“It is very hard for them, sometimes appointments at the Hithadhoo hospital get cancelled because the ferry does not show up without any prior notice,” she said.

On 26 July, Rozaina held a press conference expressing concern over the failure to provide a sea ambulance for the area. She accused Minister of Health Mariyam Shakeela of reneging on a promise made before the Majlis to provide the service.

The Addu Meedhoo MP has described the speedboat allocated for Addu as unfit, noting that the cover is ripped, the floor cracked, and that the vessel is without GPS, and a compass, among other equipment.


Mayor Sodig noted that the government had awarded MVK the Dhoogas Guest House in Gan as an incentive for providing the ferry service.The guest house “which was functioning well when handed over”, said the mayor, is now mostly vacant and ignored.

“It was utilised to some extent during the SAARC Summit, but they are not running the place at all,” he said.

The handing of Dhoogas to MVK was investigated by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2010 which found the guest house was awarded in contravention of relevant laws and regulations. The then-MDP government denied these allegations.

Management of the guest house, with approximately fifty rooms, was in handed over to former MP Abdulla Jabir’s ‘J Hotels’ in February this year, and was renamed ‘J Palace’.

While the city council is tasked with monitoring the service, mayor Sodig said today that they were unable to contact MVK to discuss the issues.

Addu council have been discussing the issue with the government since 2012 with no action being taken, the mayor said.

“We have brought this issue to the attention of all past transport ministers. And the Dhoogas guest house is given to MVK to provide public transport service here, but we are seeing that they are unable to do so,” he said.

MP Rozaina also said attempts to communicate the issue with the government have been in vain, mainly due to confusions regarding the institution responsible following the recent abolition of the Ministry of Transport.

“They told me I should contact home ministry, but they told the council to contact economic ministry. The parliament was not informed of these changes in the ministry, so it will be very difficult for MPs to inquire,” said Rozaina.

Minivan News was also unable to reach MVK, or the Ministry of Economic Development regarding the issue. The listed official numbers of MVK were out of service.

While the Addu city council is still working on resolving the issue, Rozaina has pledged to raise the issue in the Majlis if a solution is not found within a week.


Ferry tales – Managing the Hulhumalé commute

It was 23:30, a large number of people were gathered outside Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé, the kind of crowd that usually gathers around a crime scene. But no crime was committed there – no police lines visible.

The people were gathering there to board the ferry to Hulhumalé – an extension of Malé City separated by sea, one of the greater Malé islands. Ferry service staff in blue uniforms were guarding the entrance to three tightly packed terminal waiting areas, as those outside anxiously awaited news of an extra ferry that might shorten the otherwise two-hour wait.

Adam Humam, a tour guide who lives in Hulhumalé hears nothing but complains about the ferry service:

“Look at this ferry, this thing is like a sauna most of the time. One will need to take a shower after traveling on this. Just look at how they have arranged the seats, we have to sit so tightly packed” Humam said, leaning away from the chair to avoid bumping into the next passenger.

The ferry concerned was an average wooden Dhoni, furnished with ten rows of plastic chairs screwed to the floor. The gangway led to two rows of motorbikes at the rear of the boat. Most windows on both sides were shut by the people adjacent, to shelter from occasional splashes of water. A few travellers stood at the back of the ferry – unable to find a seat. The smell was a mix of sea, old wood, and bodily odors.

With few exceptions, almost everyone who were interviewed about the 20 minute ferry service was unhappy with the service. The conditions of the ferry, the terminal and timings – it was all unsatisfactory for most questioned. Just a few long- time residents of Hulhumalé recalled the ferry services having improved significantly in the past decade.

Hulhumalé – a reclaimed landmass measuring 2 square kilometers off the north-east coast of Malé City – is home to an estimated 20,000 people. First settled in May 2004 with just one thousand people, the population of Hulhumalé is expected to double to 60,000 by 2020. The ferry service, operated by the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC), is clearly finding it hard to cater to Hulhumalé’s population boom.

The MTCC has often said the ferry operation is not profitable at current rates, though Malé City Mayor Maizan Ali ‘Alibe’ Manik says that company can manage by investing in lands provided for them to subsidise the service. The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) – the government owned corporation mandated with the development and management of Hulhumalé – remains uninvolved in the MTCC’s operations. The transport authority, however, does have a mandate to monitor and regulate all ferry services in the country.

How is the service?

“What can I say? My wife and I moved to Hulhumalé three years back, and riding this ferry to and fro every day has been nothing but a pain. I developed a pilonidal sinus, and the doctor says it is sitting for such a long time and the terrible vibrations these boats give” said a young man in his late twenties.

Another couple who moved to Hulhumalé very recently had a different complaint, fearing the procedure of getting their motor bike on to the ferry – riding over a metal sheet placed against the ferry – could damage it over time.

Leevan Shareef, a vocal critic of the Hulhumalé ferry service on Twitter, sometimes has to spend two hours commuting between Hulhumalé and Malé. The MTCC does not increase ferry services during busy days – such as when political rallies are held in Malé – or on Friday evening, when a lot of people visit Hulhumalé, he complained.

“We complain to the ferry crew or staff at the counter, they will always say the issue will be brought to the attention of superiors. But there is no news of these superiors ever,” he said.

Mahdi Shahid, Deputy Principal of Lalé Youth International School, was among the first people to use the ferry service. His view was that the ferries have improved in the past ten years.

“Looking back, I would say it has actually improved a lot. Back then the ferry docked at the far north of the island, there were no trees, there was nothing over there. And we had to walk all the way from there to the school. It was a very small ferry then, but now the ferries are bigger and they travel more frequently,” Shahid explained.

“I think the current service would be okay, if the population wasn’t increasing so rapidly. but with the current population growth I think there should be an increase in number of ferries now. What I’m looking for is getting on the ferry and leaving without having to wait there for so long,” he added.

Currently the ferries operate between 05:30am and 02:30am, with eighty-two rounds between the two islands every day except for Fridays when ferries services are interrupted briefly for prayers.

Not profitable

Though the MTCC was unwilling to discuss the ferry service with the media, some ferry crew and staff noted that there were many challenges facing the company.

One such issue was that of Malé harbor, which they noted did not allow several ferries to operate simultaneously. “Sometimes we have to wait five minutes outside the harbor entrance, waiting for other ferries including those leaving for Hulhulé [the airport island] to leave,” said one crew member.

Four months ago, ferryboat owners – who lease their boats to the MTCC – went on strike after a failure to receive payments. The MTCC blamed this on delays in receiving payments from various government projects undertaken in various parts of the country. The company has often reiterated that its operations are not profitable at current rates. Ferry rates have risen at least twice since operations began in 2004, though other attempts to increase prices have been met with protests from Hulhumalé residents, usually ending with interventions from the city council and HDC.

In 2012, transport services in the Malé region contributed to thirteen percent of the MTCC’s operating profits, however the net loss in this sector has been gradually increasing over the past five years. The loss for transport services in the Male’ region in 2012 was reported to be MVR15.69 million (US$1 million).

Finding a solution

While accepting there are challenges in providing this service, Malé City Mayor “Maizan” Ali Manik (Alibe) said that a lack of profitability should not result in a bad service or higher fares.

“They always say they are operating ferries at loss. Yes, but services should be provided even at loss. All services provided by the state cannot be for profit,” Alibe said.

The MTCC could turn this around if they would invest in lands provided to them to subsidise these services, said the mayor. The ferry terminal land in both Malé and nearby Villingili islands were given to MTCC free of charge, and the plot for Hulhumalé terminal was given at ‘a very small rate’ according to HDC. The rent for businesses at ferry terminals – including the popular Sea House Cafe’ – goes to the MTCC.

“They can develop these land make profit in many ways” Alibe said, assuring that the city council was ready to help the MTCC in any such ventures.

Alibe stated his belief that the ferry service is gradually improving, and that some of the ferries were now of a high standard. However, if the MTCC is unable to fulfil its promises to improve the services by themselves, a second party might have be brought in, said the mayor.

The Housing Development Corporation

The MTCC has been providing public ferry and bus services for the Hulhumalé community since its inception, under an understanding with the HDC, which is currently in the process of formulating a formal agreement between the two companies. The services were provided for nearly ten years without any formal agreement.

Highlighting the HDC’s role in the ferry service, Deputy Managing Director Mohamed Shahid said the corporation does not get involved in business operations of some services such as the ferry operation in Hulhuamalé.

“We share [with MTCC] information regarding the population here and we try to provide adequate facilities for [serving] that [population]… we know that due to resources limitations there are some issues in both ferry and bus service,” he said.

According to Shahid, a set of standards and timings for operating bus and ferry services have been prepared and shared with the MTCC. The regulatory authority for travel operations of all ferry services, however, is the Transport Authority which has developed its own guidelines.

HDC Deputy Director Abdulla Fayaz said they were also looking into issues with ferry services, and communicating with the MTCC to resolve concerns raised by the public: “We do conduct surveys and maintain statistics regarding customers…this information is also shared with MTCC.”


Despite the optimism expressed by both the HDC and the city council with regards to improving the quality of  services, many people who frequent these ferries remained sceptical.

The current government has joined the prior three administrations in pledging to connect Hulhumalé and Malé  with a bridge. The government is currently in the process of reviewing proposals to build this bridge. Until then, thousands of people continue to dream of a better ferry service.


Koodoo Fisheries to provide ferry service in Huvadhu atoll

Government-owned fisheries company Koodoo has been tasked with providing ferry services in Gaaf Alif and Gaaf Dhaal atolls on a temporary basis, according to local media reports.

In March 2013, the transport ministry terminated an agreement with Trinus-CAE Holdings Pvt Ltd to provide public transport in the two atolls following interruptions in the service.

The private company was contracted to provide ferry services in November 2009 under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) policy of the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government.

A nationwide transport network was one of five main pledges of the previous government.

In October 2012, the MDP-majority Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Council accused Trinus-CAE of ceasing ferry services and asked the transport ministry to cancel the agreement with the company.

The council said in a statement at the time that it was receiving a number of complaints from citizens inconvenienced by the unavailability of ferry services.

“The council believes that since the company that provides this service in the atoll has been given an uninhabited island [under the PPP programme] and continues to reap benefits from the island, the public should receive adequate services,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, Deputy Director at the Transport Ministry Abdulla Shakeeb told newspaper Haveeru today that ferry services will resume on Saturday (June 22) with five boats and the same ticket prices of MVR 25 for inter-atoll transport and MVR 50 between the two atolls.

Shakeeb said the government would make an announcement in the near future seeking a party to offer ferry services in the two southern atolls. He added that the ministry expected the bidding process to be completed in the next six months.

According to Sun Online, Deputy Transport Mahdhy Imad said at a ceremony held today to sign the agreement with Koodoo that the government would cover the cost of providing the service if the fisheries company was unable to do so. The government would however not provide any finances for Koodoo to commence the ferry service, he added.


Ferry services temporarily suspended stranding 200

The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) temporarily halted public ferry services last night (May 15) due to bad weather and rough seas, stranding over 200 people, reports local media.

Ferry service to Villingili Island was instead continued via speedboats.

Hulhumale’ ferry service was also temporarily discontinued, with boats instead docking at the airport island Hulhule.


Ferry service interrupted in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll, claims Atoll Council

The Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Council has accused Trinus-CAE Pvt Ltd of ceasing ferry services in the Upper South Province.

The private company was contracted to provide ferry services in November 2009 under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) policy of the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government.

In a press statement yesterday, the MDP-majority council based in Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo expressed “serious concern” with the failure of both the Transport Ministry and Trinus to reply to the council’s written complaints regarding the cessation of ferry services.

As a result, the statement read, the council was receiving a number of complaints from citizens inconvenienced by the unavailability of the intra-atoll ferry service. The council also revealed that it had requested annulling an agreement with the Transport Ministry to monitor ferry services.

“The council believes that since the company that provides this service in the atoll has been given an uninhabited island [under the PPP programme] and continues to reap benefits from the island, the public should receive adequate services,” the statement read.

The council statement went on to characterise the “inconsistent” services provided by the company as politically motivated, adding that the government’s failure to remedy the situation was “regrettable.”


Ferry services accomodate medical staff shortage

Ferry services in Raa Atoll are helping the Rasgetheem community cope with dwindling medical staff.

With the island’s only doctor on a four-day leave, medical services beyond simple blood pressure tests have been suspended. Meanwhile, the clinic’s nurse remains on duty to provide basic services to Rasgetheem’s 952 residents.

Although the lack of a doctor would seem insupportable for any community, a Rasgetheem council member said new ferry services have accommodated the inconvenience.

“Since the ferry opened people are choosing to go to Ungoofaru, it’s only one-and-a-half hours by ferry”, she pointed out.

The council member said a second doctor had been requested, however the council understood that none were available.

Of Raa Atoll’s 15 inhabited islands, none have more than one doctor and there is no back-up physician to fill in when doctors go on leave. In most cases, island doctors are limited by skill set and technology.

Ungoofaru Regional Hospital Assistant Manager Hussain Shiham said medical staffing was one of the atoll’s biggest concerns.

“Staffing here is very weak, especially doctors. Right now Raa atoll, Noonu atoll and Baa atoll don’t have gynecologists. Raa atoll doesn’t have a dentist or an orthopedist. We have applied for over 19 medical personnel, but the medical council hasn’t approved any,” said Shiham.

Shiham explained that the regional hospital has requested staff, even submitting applications for positions received from medical professionals in Italy, Russia and the Ukraine. “But the medical council won’t accept Russian graduates because their school system isn’t registered internationally,” he said.

When asked about the Atoll’s relationship with the medical council, Shiham said he was unclear about the election process and supposed that council members had political motivations.

Assistant Director of the Ministry of Health and Family, Fathimath Lamiya, said new hires had been delayed by flaws in the recruitment process which exposed communities to medical malpractice, but corrected that the changes had not created the current staff shortage.

Previously, she explained, members of the health sector assumed that approval to recruit staff members was equivalent to approval to practice medicine.

“The councils are mandated to regulate health professionals and ensure that they meet certain standards,” Lamiya said. “In most countries you have to be registered with a board or council to certify that you are able to practice. Many weren’t, but now they are being registered.”

New regulations under the Health Ministry aim at reducing the time, cost and risk of hiring foreign medical staff.

“All candidates will submit qualifications to get approval, but now they can use photocopies rather than original documents,” Lamiya said, adding that the previous system requiring original documents involved candidates coming into the Maldives and, if not approved, receiving a paid flight home at the Maldivian employer’s expense.

“Now, candidates will get their recruitment approval before they arrive, the Human Resources Ministry will require that approval to issue a visa, and upon arrival they can register with their original documents in the island councils,” Lamiya said.

She observed that the shortage of medical staff was a concern, but hoped the new process would ensure that good doctors are hired.

Meanwhile, Shiham said, health professionals on Raa Atoll make ends meet.

“Ferry rates have dropped significantly, so people are coming more and more to the regional hospital,” he said, acknowledging that the service has boosted cooperative efforts among the islands.

“If a person has a serious health condition [when the doctor is away], then people will get a launch to take him to a nearby island. The nearest is only three minutes away. A nurse is usually in a health center nearby, and I think we can provide services”, he said.

For services beyond the capacity of the regional hospital, Shiham said a four hour ferry to Male’ was available for Rf 580 (US$35).