Business as usual for Maldives travel industry despite ash disrupting flights in Europe

European flight services to and from the Maldives have not been impacted by the release of volcanic ash from Iceland into the local atmosphere with business continuing as normal today, according to staff at Male’ International Airport.

The BBC reported that some 700 flights had been cancelled across Germany today over safety concerns concerning a buildup of ash in parts of European airspace that originated from Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano.  The report added that the situation is reported to already been returning to normal.

Last April, an eruption from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano created a thick cloud of volcanic ash that grounded days of flights across Europe and Scandinavia. The ash impacted a number of the world’s leading airlines and their services to the Maldives, leaving tourists stranded in the country for days in some cases.

However, officials at Male’ International Airport said that the latest volcanic eruption occurring in Iceland this week had not at present had any severe impacts on arrival or departure schedules at the airport – claims that were shared by a number of airlines.

Speaking to Minivan News a spokesperson for British Airways, which operates  direct flights from London to the Maldives, said the airline had experienced only a minor number of interruptions to its flights on certain services to Scotland and parts of northern Germany.

“At present we have not been made aware of any potentially significant impacts [from the ash] on our flight schedules,” the spokesperson added.

Darrell Soertsz, District Manager for Emirates’ operations in the Maldives, said services between Europe and the Maldives had similarly been untroubled.

“So far things have been operating normally and we certainly hope to keep things that way,” he said.

Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa said she had not been fully informed of the exact impacts of travel disruptions, if any, to the country’s tourism industry.

Dr Zulfa added that the industry had suffered last year following difficulties with volcanic ash in European airspace. Nonetheless she said it was her belief that tourism in the country was strong enough to overcome any possible difficulties that could result from the latest eruption.

“Any possible flight disruptions will of course have an impact on tourism,” she said. “Overall [last year’s] eruptions were a major hassle for the country. However, as is always the case, resort operators and other members of the industry will work together to find solutions and these solutions will be found.”

Speaking to Minivan News last year whilst the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption bought European Airspace to a standstill, ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said the cancellation of flights highlighted the vulnerability of the country’s tourism industry to outside forces.

Sim said the most important thing to note from the situation was “how vulnerable and dependent we are on external influences” and how much “incidents that we can’t control” affect the industry.

He claimed that the eruptions had not been such a huge problem for resorts at the time, but noted people were not happy about the developments that left passengers stranded in the Maldives as well as all over the world. “Obviously, we are doing the best we can. The situation is very difficult to manage.”

Sim said although some resorts had taken the flight cancellations “very seriously and responsibly,” others did not do as much as they could to ensure their guests were kept as “happy and comfortable” as possible under the circumstances.

“There is very little we can do,” he said at the time. “There is no way anyone can leave or come [to the country].”


Tourists still stranded in the Maldives due to volcanic ash

London’s Heathrow Airport reopened flights on Tuesday night after almost a week of flight cancellations due to the volcanic ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which erupted last Wednesday and spread a thick cloud of ash over Europe.

Major airports around Europe are now reopening their airspace for more flights to resume, allowing stranded tourists and goods to reach their destinations, although recent reports suggest this is happening somewhat haphazardly.

Anecdotal reports suggest some hotels and resorts are reaching capacity with stranded tourists, particularly those near the airport on Hulhumale.

Controller of Immigration, Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, said tourists who have been stranded in the Maldives will not have any issues with immigration.

“We are willing to extend their visas,” he said. “There is no problem with visas expiring. The problem is when they over-stay their booking at the hotels and resorts.”

Deputy Director at the Ministry of Tourism Hassan Zameer said no resorts have reported any cases of stranded tourists to the ministry, but they have informed resorts not to take passengers to the airport unless their flight has been confirmed.

Zameer said members of government, the tourism industry and resorts met earlier this week to discuss the situation, and said some resorts had offered to give their guests discounts “so long as they are not losing money.”

He said he did not know whether any resorts were implementing these discounted rates.

Zameer noted that “if this situation is prolonged it will be very costly to [the resorts],” and they are trying to help guests how they can.

Deputy Minister of Tourism Thoyyib Waheed said the ministry does not have any statistics on how many tourists have been stranded in the Maldives or how many were expected to arrive but were stranded in Europe.

But he added the airport has set up a hotline (call 332 2211) to help tourists with information on flights.

Staff at the One & Only Reethi Rah resort said most of their guests have extended their stay for at least four nights, but could not give any more details about whether they were giving special rates or any other assistance to these guests.

Many resorts around Malé that are reported to be over-booked with stranded tourists did not wish to comment on how they are handling the situation.

Stranded in paradise

Minivan News spoke to one British couple with their two young kids who had planned to return to the UK on Monday, when Sri Lankan Airlines informed them their flight had been cancelled and they would have to stay in the Maldives until flights resumed.

Because the airline is not party to the EU legislation, it does not have to provide financial assistance, such as accommodation and food vouchers, to its stranded customers.


The couple said they knew some people who were flying with British Airways and noted that BA customers were getting compensation from the airline.

They stressed the point that insurance would not cover any of their expenses, noting “nothing is covered.”

Because they were staying at a resort that cost US$450 per person per day plus food, they have found new, more affordable, accommodation in Malé until they can be rebooked on a flight home.

“We’re just waiting for Sri Lankan Airlines to call us,” they said. “There’s a three-flight back-log.”

The couple added they were meant to be back at work in the UK early this week and their kids should be back at school.

“We’re losing our salary on top of the extra expenses,” they said.

They noted neither the airline, the resort or the government had assisted them in any way.

An Italian couple had a different story to tell. They were stuck in Shanghai and were told their best option was to take a flight to Kuala Lumpur and then to Cairo. But by when they reached KL, they discovered their flight to Egypt had been cancelled.

“So we came to the Maldives to relax for a few days,” they said, adding that they had no swimsuits or beach clothes, “just scarves and jackets.”

They had been told of a flight back to Italy on April 29, but were still awaiting confirmation from their airline and are hoping to get back on Sunday, if possible.

“For now, we will go relax at a nice resort with beautiful beaches,” they said.

Two young Britons said they had not yet been affected by the volcano since their flight was originally scheduled for tomorrow, and are hoping they will be able to keep their seats.

Many import/export businesses, such as tropical fish exporters, have also faced difficulty since they cannot send their products to Europe. Cargo has been stopped in hubs like Dubai and stored by the airlines, while some if it has been returned to the Maldives.

With airlines gradually reopening their flights again, goods and products are now queued, waiting to reach their destination.


Donor Conference pledges now US$487 million, says Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Aid commitments following the recent Maldives Donor Conference have reached US$487 million, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and State Minister Ahmed Naseem took to the stage this morning to dismiss claims made by the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that the donor conference had raised less US$20 million in pledges.

“That is their own number,” Dr Shaheed said.

“If you add up the money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the UN system, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) it’s almost US$200 million. That is 80 per cent of pledges coming from these big donors.”

Shaheed spoke about monitoring and implementation mechanisms, which would ensure the funds are used according to the donor’s wishes and the government’s pledges.

Coordinator for the UN in the Maldives Mansoor Ali said the donor conference had been very successful and it was “not the time to be negative” about the results.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of the recent climate change meeting held this week by the Progressive Group in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, where delegates from 23 countries met to advance negotiations before the next international climate change summit scheduled to take place in Cancun, Mexico in November this year.

The Progressive Group brings together the countries with a “forward-looking and constructive attitude to international climate change negotiations,” and played a key role in last year’s international climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Delegates from over twenty countries came together in Colombia to “exchange opinions and promote active participation towards the next climate change summit.”

The meeting focused mostly on creating ministerial-level communication between countries, in hopes to ease dialogue between nations and to advance on key issues such as fast-start financing, adaptation, low-carbon development and verification of emission cuts.

Maldives proposed a second ministerial-level meeting to take place in Malé in July this year.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of President Mohamed Nasheed’s recent visit to Europe, and confirmed that German Police officers will be arriving in Malé “very soon” to begin training Maldives Police Service (MPS) officers to work in a democracy.

“They are the ones who retrained the Stasi in East Germany after German reunification, as well as the police force in Kosovo,” Shaheed said. “They are the best in the world at what they do.”

He said the German team will stay in the Maldives from one year to eighteen months, depending on when they believe the MPS is ready, “all at the German government’s expense.”

Dr Shaheed added that Icelandic President, Ólafur Grímsson, will be visiting the Maldives soon to promote sustainable green energy alongside President Nasheed.

Dr Shaheed spoke of the recently signed agreement with the Rothschild banking dynasty, which has agreed to help the Maldives in the bid to become carbon neutral by 2020.

“There needs to be a study on where we have most carbon emissions,” Dr Shaheed said, adding that “they will also try to carbon-proof our current systems.”

The Rothschild group will secure international financing to fund a carbon audit of the Maldives. Dr Shaheed said the surveying will take approximately nine months.

Dr Shaheed ended the press conference with news of the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to draft a new international human rights treaty as an additional optional protocol to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was proposed by the Maldives.

Maldives was chosen to chair the core group discussing the CRC in Geneva, joined by Slovenia, Slovakia, Egypt, Kenya, France, Finland, Thailand, Uruguay and Chile.

The CRC, which is the most ratified treaty in the world, was lacking in allowing cases regarding abuse of the rights of children to be submitted to international UN mechanisms.

The new treaty proposes to allow cases to be sent to international protection mechanisms to intervene when domestic institutions fail to offer protection.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story Dr Shaheed was quoted as saying the visiting German police trainers were  responsible for retraining the Gestapo after the Second World War. This has been clarified as the Stasi, the East German secret police, who were retrained after the reunification of Germany post-1990.


President gives lecture on climate change at University of Iceland

President Mohamed Nasheed delivered a public lecture at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik on the effects and ways to combat climate change.

He said climate change was a very real threat, and “climate deniers” were trying to continue with “business as usual.”

“A handful of e-mails don’t disprove overwhelming body of science,” President Nasheed said.

The president added that cutting down carbon emissions would not compromise the development of a nation, stating that “we need development but we do not need carbon.”

He used Iceland as an example of a country developing without large amounts of carbon emissions. He said Iceland could be seen as a great example by other developing countries.

The president also spoke of the urgent need for a legally binding climate change treaty.

President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was present at the lecture. In his introduction he said President Nasheed is “a champion of democracy” and congratulated him on his efforts to highlight the issues of climate change.

The president also visited the University’s Natural Science Building and sought information on geological and climactic change.

President Nasheed concluded his visit in Iceland and left for Switzerland yesterday.


President meets with Icelandic ministers

On his last day in Iceland, President Mohamed Nasheed met with both the Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture, Jón Bjarnsason, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Össur Skarphéðinsson.

President Nasheed met with Minister Bjarnsason at Iceland’s Marine Research Institute, where they discussed the development of a mutually beneficial cooperative framework between the Maldives and Iceland in the area of fisheries and fishing technologies.

They agreed that both countries could benefit from sharing their experiences in the fishing industry.

President Nasheed said Maldivian fisheries industry could benefit from Iceland’s experience in practices and fishing technologies and Minister Bjarnsason said Iceland wanted to work with small fishing island nation such as the Maldives.

President Nasheed and Icelandic President Ólafur Grímsson visited Iceland’s Marine Research Institute, where President Nasheed was briefed on marine research and mechanisms to monitor and control fishing activities.

President Nasheed then met with Minister Skarphéðinsson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where they discussed ways of further strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries.

They mainly focused on the areas of fishing, renewable energy and climate change adaptation.


President Nasheed meets with President and PM of Iceland

President Mohamed Nasheed arrived in Iceland on Friday morning as part of his European tour, meeting the country’s President Ólafur Grímsson.

The presidents discussed issues of mutual concern like climate change, which President Nasheed said was a very real threat to the world and was an issue to be tackled urgently.

President Nasheed commended Iceland’s policy to make renewable energy their main source of energy. He said both developed and developing countries could learn from Iceland in this respect.

President Nasheed said cooperation between both countries could be strengthened in both the fisheries industry and in renewable energy. He sought Iceland’s assistance in these areas.

President Ólafur Grímsson expressed his wish to strengthen relations with the Maldives, and assured President Nasheed of his country’s support and assistance.

President Nasheed later met with Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and discussed ways of strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries.


President departs on four-nation European tour

President Mohamed Nasheed has departed this morning on his four-nations European tour.

The president is to visit Germany, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland.

President Nahseed will meet with political and industry leaders, as well as investors and climate experts in all four countries.

The president is scheduled to visit ITB Berlin, an international travel and trade show held yearly in Berlin.

He will also hold a lecture on climate change at the Freie Universität Berlin hosted by the Environmental Policy Research Centre. The Freie Universität is one of the leading research universities in Germany, and ranks among the best in the country.

President Nasheed will then attend a public lecture in Iceland, followed by a speech at the Seminar and Policy Debate organised by the Finnish Institute of International Affaris (FIIA), which produces topical information on international relations with the EU.