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.”