59-year-old woman dies of asphyxiation on Flyme flight

A 59-year-old woman died of asphyxiation last night (November 20) aboard a Flyme airline flight.

Local media has identified the woman as Shaida Hasan from Gaa Alif Villingili Sosun Villa. She died while on a domestic flight from Malé’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) to Kadadehdhoo.

Media outlet CNM reported a Flyme official as saying that, after noticing the woman was having breathing difficulties, the flight attendants provided the woman with first aid, giving her oxygen through the oxygen masks.

The Flyme official said that air traffic control were informed of the situation before the flight returned to INIA from where Shifa was taken to the airport health facility. The airline was informed of the death at 8.45pm last night.


STO to import oil, staples and pharmaceuticals only

State wholesaler State Trading Organization (STO) will focus solely on importing fuel, food staples and pharmaceuticals, the Economic Council has announced at a press conference today.

The move is part of the government’s decision to move STO out of the retail business in order to encourage private businesses, Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed said.

However, the STO has recently launched a new brand of groceries called Noofahi as well as announcing plans to expand the supermarket at the STO Trading Center in Malé.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb added that STO will be restructured and will build new fuel storage facilities, establish a shipping fleet to import oil and will take measures to increase fuel security.

Meanwhile, STO MD Adam Azim today announced a MVR1.25 reduction on a liter of petrol and diesel following a request by President Abdulla Yameen.

Adeeb at today’s press conference pledged to further decrease fuel prices and said the government is looking into ways to reduce prices on jet fuel for domestic transport

Minister of Youth Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said the “historic” reduction would address rising inflation.

The Economic Council also said a German research vessel has found hydrocarbon source rocks in the Maldives and said the government is working with a Japan’s Mitsui and Taisei, and China’s Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) to upgrade the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The Maldives intends to ask for a preferential trade mechanism with China following partnership in China’s maritime Silk Road.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad said the Economic Council will hold monthly meetings with state owned enterprises to address challenges, facilitate financing, and strengthen management.

Oil exploration

Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee said a preliminary assessment of hydrocarbons by Germany’s Hamburg University had brought “happy signals.”

The research team will handover detailed assessment in the first quarter of 2015, he said.

Although the presence of hydrocarbon source rocks have been confirmed, further research and analysis is required to determine if there are hydrocarbon reservoirs in the Maldives and their exact locations, Shainee explained.

The inner atoll ocean basins and atoll slopes have been examined, and new 3D seismic data will provide a more complete picture of presence of hydrocarbons, he said.

The government is setting up renewable energy alternatives in Malé and Addu, but such sources can only cater to 30 percent of Maldivian energy requirements, Shainee said.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan, Indian, Norwegian, and British companies have expressed interest in assisting Maldives in oil exploration.

Approximately 30 percent of Maldives GDP is spent on fuel imports.

Airport Development

Adeeb revealed today that the Maldives is working with Japan’s Mitsui and Taisei, and China’s BUCG on a master plan for airport development.

The government intends to secure a US$600 million loan from Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and China Exim Bank for the venture.

Once loans are sanctioned, the work will be contracted out, he added. In the meantime, the government will rehabilitate the existing runway.

Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed noted an increase in Chinese imports to Maldives, especially in heavy machinery, and said the Economic Council is working on establishing a preferential trade mechanism.

A technical team from China is due to visit the Maldives to undertake a survey for the Malé – Hulhulé bridge in the near future, the council said.

The council also revealed that the Maldives has signed a maritime labor convention, and intends to establish an open ship registry in order to expand maritime businesses such as offshore shipping and to increase luxury cruise ship arrivals in the country.


INIA installs thermal cameras to prevent Ebola

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport has strengthened measures against Ebola carrying travelers by installing thermal cameras to identify travelers with high body temperature which is one symptoms of Ebola.

In an unveiling of the cameras held at the airport today, State Minister for Health Dr Aishath Rameela said that the travelers with high fevers would be identified using the cameras and would be taken to specialised screening booths.

The travelers who are suspected of having Ebola after the screening will be quarantined in a special isolation room until doctors from Hulhumalé hospital arrive and transport them for further examination.

Dr Rameela also said that thermal cameras are planned to be installed in the other two international airports in the Maldives.

Earlier this week the government announced that no travellers from the countries worst affected by the Ebola crisis would be permitted entry to the Maldives. Additionally, anyone having travelled to one of these countries must now wait until the 21 day incubation period has elapsed before being granted a visa.


Airport runway resumes operations after fuel leakage shutdown

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) has resumed runway operations early Sunday morning after a shut down on Saturday night due to a fuel leakage.

Maldives Airports Company Limited officials told local media the runway had been closed down to a hydraulic fuel leakage from a Singapore Airlines flight that had landed on Saturday night.

Operations resumed at about 12.45am on Sunday.

The airport’s runway was closed on September 6 due to a leakage from a Singapore Airlines flight.


New passport verification system set up at immigration counters

A new e-passport verification system donated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has been set up at immigration counters at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) and the foreign labour section at the immigration department, reports local media.

Speaking at a function at Hulhulé Island Hotel yesterday, IOM Programme Manager Alia Hijree explained that the system could be used if an immigration officer feels suspicious about a passport or visa, adding that the process would only take 19 seconds.

“In this short time we verify the details about a suspicious person, to match those details stored on the electronic chip of the e-passport. The system will find how much the details match. In addition to this, the system will be able to check the type of ink used in the passport along with several other details,” she was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim meanwhile said the Maldives was targeted by smugglers while the threat of terrorism was a major concern in the region.

“Today criminals are more organized, technologically more capable, and increasingly operate across the borders. The threat of terrorism is a major concern in this region,” he was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

Counter-terrorism measures are being implemented to strengthen border control, he added.

“To strengthen our border security and minimise the threat of terrorism and trans-national crime, we are working hard to implement robust border security measures and also counter terrorism measures as well.”


Airport at standstill for one hour after aircraft grounded

The Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) came to a standstill yesterday (August 6) after a Cathay Pacific aircraft was unexpectedly grounded.

The runway had to be closed down for about an hour from 9pm because of a hydraulics problem on the plane. Hydraulic fluid consequently leaked onto the runway, causing numerous delays and disruptions, reported local media Haveeru.

According to Haveeru, one Emirates Flight which was scheduled to land had to be diverted elsewhere. Other flights delayed due to the incident include Malaysian Airways, Singapore Flights, and a number of domestic flights.

An official from INIA told Haveeru, “The runway has been cleared and is now operational. The delay took about one hour. Operations are now turning back to normal,” he said.


President Yameen accuses opposition parties of inciting unrest, sabotaging economy

President Abdulla Yameen has accused opposition parties of attempting to foment unrest and sabotage the economy in his address to the nation on the occasion of the 49th Independence Day.

Speaking after a flag-hoisting ceremony at Republic Square last night, Yameen said the government would not allow the country to be plunged back into turmoil while it was enjoying a period of calm and stability.

“Opposition political parties are deliberately trying to disrupt stability by creating a spirit of unrest in society,” he said, adding that incitement of such fervour in the past had repeatedly threatened the country’s independence.

“I do not believe that failing to achieve the love and consent of the public should be a reason to plunge the nation into a deep pit of hatred and strife.”

Opposition parties were pushing for a tourism boycott and attempting to convince fish importers to cease purchasing Maldivian fish in a “deliberate attempt to create distress and anxiety,” Yameen alleged.

He added that “attempts to weaken the country economically” was tantamount to threatening independence.

Yameen also condemned alleged “efforts to create doubts” in the minds of foreign buyers of Maldivian fish and an alleged campaign to boycott tourism.

The current administration would “defeat all efforts to impoverish Maldivian citizens, build a peaceful generation of youth, and go forward in securing prosperity for Maldivians,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference on July 16, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee had accused the Maldivian Democratic Party of attempting to “destroy” the fisheries industry after the main opposition party issued a statement condemning President Yameen’s fisheries policy.

Shainee dismissed the party’s contention that the industry was stagnating and appealed against spreading “false information” to international media, suggesting that the fisheries industry was “too fragile” to be made the subject of adversarial politics.

Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb told Minivan News last month that the government’s “total focus” was on the economy.

“We are not running behind our political opponents and we have stopped political rhetoric now – we have stopped responding to that but we are responding to economic issues,” he said.

Development projects

President Yameen went on to outline his administration’s development plans, referring to the special economic zone (SEZ) legislation currently before parliament as integral to the government’s economic policy.

An SEZ law would ensure investor confidence, increase foreign direct investment, create job opportunities, and mitigate the dependence on the tourism industry, Yameen explained.

Once the SEZ bill is enacted into law, he continued, one of the first projects to be undertaken would be the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project.

The ‘iHavan’ project would become “the main gateway” for development and prosperity in the northernmost atolls.

Plans for Addu City includes development of both the Gan international airport and the Hithadhoo regional harbour to spur economic activity, Yameen said.

A ‘mega project’ for development of the southernmost airport was in the pipeline while the government has decided to transfer the regional harbour under the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) for modernisation, he revealed.

MPL would also take over the regional port in the island of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal atoll, he added.

The formulation of a master plan for the development of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) was meanwhile ongoing in collaboration with Singapore’s Changi airport, Yameen noted.

The changes envisioned in the master plan include a new terminal and a new runway, he said.

Moreover, a contract has been awarded for dredging and reclamation of Hulhumalé for development of a ‘youth city in the artificial island as pledged during last year’s presidential election, Yameen said.

He stressed that the government would ensure that development projects would not threaten the country’s independence and sovereignty following criticism of the SEZ bill.

Yameen also revealed that criminal records have been cleared for 3,588 youth since he took office in November, adding that he has asked the newly appointed Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin to introduce a new procedure to not prosecute first time offenders under an agreement signed with offenders.

Last night’s ceremony was meanwhile attended by former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Dr Mohamed Waheed as well as senior statesmen – Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi and Ibrahim Rasheed – who worked with former President Ibrahim Nasir to secure independence from the British in 1965.


MACL staff protest discrimination in annual bonus

An estimated 150 employees of the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) demonstrated over discrimination in bonus payouts today.

The protests started on Tuesday morning after leaked documents indicated senior management and an estimated 200 staff members working at the duty free shops were to receive a percentage of profits while other employees were only to receive an amount equivalent to their basic salaries.

Speaking to Minivan News, a staff members who took part in the protests said senior staff and duty free staff were to receive up to MVR80,000 (US$5188) while most staff members were to receive between MVR6000 (US$389) and MVR15000 (US$972).

“Around 1900 employees are to receive an amount equivalent to their basic salaries, which comparatively is a very low amount. Their [management] justification is that duty free employees reached a profit target. But there are others who work as hard, and earn the company as much money in other departments,” she said.

A handful of senior level employees in some departments would receive between MVR25,000 and MVR50,000 (US$1621 – US$3242), she said.

“This is a huge difference, a huge discrimination which is against the company’s general human resource policy. Most of us are giving our hundred percent to the company, and our work brings in as much money as the duty free staff,” the protesting staff member said.

The demonstrations were peaceful and not intended to obstruct airport operations in the airport, she continued.

“We stood up for our rights, we are not against the management nor did we have any intention to obstruct the operations here. We were demanding an explanation.”

Managing Director of MACL, Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem, met the protesters yesterday and told them the company board will hold discussions and reach a decision on the matter as soon as possible.

In response, protesters today demanded a deadline for the decision. Subsequently, the company issued a circular stating that bonus payouts will be revised and a decision will be made before August 31. The circular was changed a second time to specifically mention that the issue will be resolved in an equitable manner on the protesters’ demands.

An MACL spokesman told Minivan News today that the leaked document was not an official one and no decisions have been made yet over the distribution of bonuses.

“The management have discussed the issue with the protesting staff members now and it is settled. Everyone has gone back to work. It all started with a leaked document, which is not final in anyway. The bonus amounts would be announced before August 31,” he said.

The decision to grant annual bonus to employees was made after a staff members protested its discontinuation in March. At the time the employees also raised the issue of the poor quality of food provided at the staff cafeteria.


Seleznyov’s Guam hearing delayed as defence claims Maldives’ arrest was illegal

The lawyer of alleged Russian hacker Roman Seleznyov has alleged his client’s detention in the Maldives was illegal, calling for the termination of his case based on “outrageous governmental misconduct” by the United States.

“The U.S. agents disregarded the U.S. law which prohibits the execution of warrant of arrests on foreign soil, disregarded Maldives law which affords fundamental legal protections, and disregarded well-established principles of international law which prohibit government-sponsored abduction of non-combatants,” Defence Attorney Patrick Civille was quoted as saying by local media in Guam.

Seleznyov was taken to the US territory after being detained at the Maldives’ Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on July 5. Outraged Russian authorities have described his arrest as “kidnapping”.

A removal hearing scheduled in Guam today has been delayed while Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood determines whether she has jurisdiction over the case.

Seleznyov’s attorneys are reported as saying their client was detained by US rather than Maldivian personnel, as well as questioning the validity of the Interpol red notice used to detain him, claiming the notice was only issued on the day of the arrest.

An initial US press release revealed no details of the location of the arrest, though it was clearly stated as having taken place on July 5. A subsequent statement by the US Attorney’s Office in Guam said that Seleznyov had been arrested in Guam on July 6.

Arrested by US personnel

Civille’s motion is reported to have argued that  his client was “in fact taken into custody by agents of the United States Secret Service while physically present in the Republic of the Maldives,” said Kuam News.

“While on foreign soil, Seleznev [sic] was detained, handcuffed and questioned by U.S. law enforcement agents who then quickly spirited Seleznev away from Maldives to Guam on a private jet chartered by the United States,” continued Civille.

“His arrest therefore occurred on foreign soil, not upon the territory of the United States, and thus his presence before this court has been procured in an unlawful manner.”

Assistant US Attorney Marivic David is reported to have argued that the Guam court’s role is simply to positively identify the suspect in order to issue an order for his removal to the Western District of Washington in the US where Seleznyov was indicted in March 2011.

In a statement provided for the District Court of Guam, Seleznyov has described his arrest by US personnel on July 5.

“One of the three Americans screamed loudly that he was with the United States Secret Service and that I was under arrest. When I asked why I was under arrest, a paper was aggressively dangled in front of my face,” Marianas Variety reported Seleznyov as saying.

“None of these individuals was a Maldives law enforcement agent as far as I could determine,” Seleznyov is quoted as saying.

While Russian media have also quoted eyewitnesses who reported non-Maldivians detaining the Seleznyov, President Abdulla Yameen has previously dismissed claims of a US Secret Service operation on Maldivian soil as baseless.

Strained relations

After a high-level government delegation met with Russian diplomats in an attempt to smooth relations, Home Minister Umar Naseer last week said that Maldivian authorities would have acted differently had they know the suspect was the son of a Russian MP.

“Had it been known that he was a high-profile person in Russia, we would have discussed with Russia. We would have talked and found out what they thought of the matter. We don’t want at all to do anything to displease Russia,” Naseer said on TVM’s Raajje Miadhu (Maldives Today) programme Thursday night (July 17).

Selezynov’s father Valery Seleznyov has called on Russian authorities to impose economic sanctions on the Maldives and reportedly offered US$50,000 for evidence proving his son was detained by US intelligence agents.

US officials in have maintained that Maldivian authorities acted under their own laws, expelling Seleznyov from the country before his subsequent arrest.

Seleznyov is accused of bank fraud, identity theft, and other cyber crimes. The US have described him as “one of the world’s most prolific traffickers of stolen financial information”.