Two fishermen lost at sea for three weeks found near Sumatra

Two fishermen lost at sea for three weeks were found early this morning by an oil tanker off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

The men, 39 year-old Hassan Rasheed from Maamigili Island in Alif Dhaalu Atoll and 32 year-old Abdulla Waheed from Maavashu Island in Laamu Atoll, went missing May 4 aboard 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.

“An oil tanker registered in the Marshall Islands, travelling to China, found the two men,” Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News today (May 25).

“They were 987 miles away from the Maldives, 300 miles off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia,” said Raheem.

The Coast Guard was contacted early this morning at 6:10am and spoke to Hassan Rasheed, explained Raheem.

“After so many days they are in good condition, a bit weak, but OK. It is very good news, we are happy they have been found in good health,” he added.

Raheem was unsure of the reason for the Azum dhoni to drift so far off course.

“I don’t believe their boat would have had fuel after such a long period of time, there also could have been problems with the engine,” he speculated.

“The oil tanker will be stopping in Singapore on May 28 and we’ll try to get them while it’s docked,” said Raheem.

Jaufar Rasheed, Hassan Rasheed’s brother, told local media that he spoke with Hassan today after he called from a Singaporean number.

“He called and said that they had been picked up by a Singapore boat. He could not say how the other was doing. He managed to say that the dhoni sank and the two were castaways on the sea for a long time. He then asked how his wife and child were doing and started crying. Then the call got disconnected,” Jaufar said.

Lost at sea

Earlier this week, a Maldivian national reported missing May 9 after he departed Fares-Maathoda Island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll via dinghy was discovered by a foreign vessel 900 miles from Maldivian waters.

The MNDF confirmed Mohamed Falah, a 30 year-old man from Fares-Maathoda had been found in “good condition” by the crew of a foreign vessel travelling to Malaysia.

The MNDF recently “downgraded” search and rescue efforts, by halting aerial operations, to locate four individuals missing at sea.

Although three of the four missing men have now been found, the search continues for Mohamed Sammoon, a 21 year-old surfer from Kolamaafushi Island in Gaafu Alif Atoll.

Sammoon was reported missing around 4:30pm on May 4 after being swept away from the island by the current.

“Still we haven’t given up hope, but this person was different because he was not in a vessel,” said Raheem.

“We recovered his surfboard the first day he went missing, so he will not have anything [to stay afloat] like the others,” he noted.

“His chances are less, but you never know. Even after so long, we are still hoping for the best,” he added.

Government authorities continue to advise members of the public to take precautions during sea travel – particularly over long distances – following the “extreme weather” reported across the Maldives this month.

The MNDF Coast Guard can be contacted through the toll free number 191, 339-8898, 339-5981, or via fax 339-1665, with any information regarding Sammoon.


Search for four men lost at sea “downgraded”

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has halted aerial search and rescue operations to locate four individuals who went missing at sea earlier this month.

Search and rescue operations for the four men lost at sea have been downgraded, not terminated, MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News today (May 20).

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

“This is the procedure – when a search is prolonged, we change our method and try to find other ways and means to locate the missing persons and vessels,” said Raheem.

“We are coordinating with vessels and islands in the area as well as other agencies. We are trying to search new areas, on land and at sea,” he added.

Raheem explained that inhabited islands and boats traveling near the areas which the men went missing have been informed about the search, while uninhabited islands are also being checked.

“Still we haven’t given up hope, we won’t stand down until we find some information about the missing men,” stated Raheem.

Local rescue efforts led by boats from the missing persons’ respective islands are also being continued, according to local media.

Mohamed Sammoon, a 21 year-old surfer from Kolamaafushi Island in Gaafu Alif Atoll (the north-eastern half of Huvadhoo Atoll), was reported missing around 4:30pm on May 4. He allegedly entered the ocean with a surfboard and was swept away by the current.

Kolamaafushi Island Council Vice President Abdulla Atheef told local media that “hope is still alive he will be located. Although it has been 14 days that Shamoon has been missing at sea, we will stop the search only after considering what the relevant authorities inform us.”

Two fisherman also went missing on May 4 aboard the fishing vessel “Azum”. They were 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. 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.

Additionally, 30 year-old Mohamed Falah, from Fares-Maathoda Island in Gaafu Dhaal Atoll (the south-western half of Huvadhoo Atoll), has not been seen since he departed via dinghy for the small uninhabited island of Uhehuttaa to collect sand on May 9.

The MNDF Coast Guard can be contacted through the toll free number 191, 339-8898, 339-5981, or via fax 339-1665, with any information regarding the missing persons.

Take travel precautions

Ongoing extreme weather conditions have hampered search efforts to find the men lost at sea, explained Raheem.

“Even on the first day [of the search] we were unable to operate the MNDF helicopter due to really bad weather. The wind has been so heavy and the sea very rough, it has been very, very difficult to conduct operations,” he said.

“The MNDF has been advising people to take the necessary precautions. We urge people to be cautious and take care that all the necessary equipment is onboard before traveling. In particular, people should not travel without life-jackets, communications equipment, and fuel,” he continued.

“It is very important to have a working communications radio onboard. Most of the time incidents occur because [the means of] communications are not enough,” he emphasised.

“Some people depend on mobile phones, however service at sea is limited. The Transportation Ministry also mandates that vessels have radio equipment be onboard,” said Raheem.

Three weeks of communities being battered by extreme weather has prompted Maldivian government authorities to provide emergency services and relief funds, as well as issue multiple travel and weather advisories.


Storm surge floods large areas of Fuvahmulah island

A storm surge in the Maldives has caused a large area of Fuvahmulah Island to flood.

Three regions of the island have areas larger than 20 feet flooded, while farmland and some freshwater wells have been affected by salt water, according to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and local media.

The extent of the damage caused to farmlands flooded by salt water last night (May 12) is still being assessed, President of Fuvahmulah Atoll Council Ali Fazad told local media. He added that the flooded farmlands are located on the island’s eastern “bushy edge”.

MNDF officers will be on alert given that more flooding is expected in Fuvahmulah during high tide later tonight.

According to the Maldives Meteorological Service (MET Office), no island other than Fuvahmulah as reported flooding, however the southern atolls can expect more heavy rain and strong winds, with gusts up to 45 miles per hour.

Earlier this week (May 9), Fuvahmulah suffered the most storm damage nationwide due to severe storms, harsh wind and rain, blowing off roofs and felling trees, according to Minister of State for Defence and National Security and head of the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC), Ahmed Mohamed.


Coast Guard rescues five after fishing boat sinks due to bad weather

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Coast Guard have found and rescued the crew of a fishing boat that sank near Gaafaru Island in Male’ (Kaafu) Atoll.

The Coast Guard was notified at at approximately 5:00pm yesterday (May 5) that the Riveli fishing boat’s engine failed due to bad weather and the vessel was sinking, reported local media.

The Coast Guard located the 45 foot fishing boat this morning. It was “badly wrecked” and sunk on top of the reef, according to the MNDF.

MNDF Media Officer Abdulla Ali told local media today (May 6) that five people onboard the vessel were found floating with the aid of their life jackets inside the Gaafaru lagoon.

Four of the people are on route to Male’ and one is in need of medical attention, he added.


Search for missing surfer underway in Huvadhoo Atoll

A search and rescue operation conducted by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Coast Guard is underway to find a Maldivian surfer lost at sea in the south of the country.

Mohamed Sammoon, a 21 year-old from Kolamaafushi Island in Gaafu Alif Atoll (the north-eastern half of Huvadhoo Atoll), was reported missing around 4:30pm Saturday (May 4), MNDF Media Officer Abdulla Ali told local media.

“The Coast Guard are now working at the scene after one from the three [young men] who went into the sea was reported missing,” Abdulla said.

The Island Council was informed Sammoon was missing at 3:20pm and promptly informed the MNDF and Police Services, Kolamaafushi Island Council President Ahmed Jameel told local media.

Sammoon was with two other young men and was reported as having a surfboard with him when he entered the sea.

“The three of them together went to the sea. The kid who has gone missing, he was swept away by the current after he went a bit far out into the sea,” said Jameel.


India to provide Maldives with equipment, financial assistance for defence

India has pledged to provide the Maldives with an assortment of defence equipment, infrastructure, and training, reports local media.

Seven radar systems, adding to the three already in place, are being given by the Indian government, as well as a helicopter for search, rescue and emergency evacuation in the northern Maldives.

Financial assistance is also being provided to construct a Coast Guard building and a harbor for Coast Guard vessels, in addition to establish a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) composite training centre in Lhaviyani Maafilaafushi.

The pledges were made by Indian Defence Minister A K Antony during Minister of Defence and National Security Minister Colonel (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim’s recent visit.


MNDF soldiers’ rights to political participation “curbed” under law: Defence Minister Nazim

Minister of Defence and National Security Colonel (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim said that he would “not allow room for politics within the military”, according to local media.

The comments were made today as part of a speech given at a flag hoisting ceremony to mark the 121st anniversary of the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF).

MNDF soldiers must forgo rights granted to civilians, refrain from politics, and limit their political participation to voting only, as stipulated in the Constitution and military law, Nazim was quoted as saying by Sun Online .

“Every soldier has to accept that some of the rights granted to a civilian in an open society are restricted to a soldier. One of these rights is the right to participate in political activities. I would like to tell you that the constitution and the military law have curbed these rights from the soldier for a greater and larger purpose,” Nazim stated, according to local media.

“I would like to tell you today, that the role of a soldier is done once you exercise your right to cast your vote, entitled to every person above the age of 18. I would like to bid from all military personnel to refrain from partaking in political activities,” Nazim added.

Nazim also “assured” soldiers he will not issue political orders as long as he remains Minister of Defence.

Article 30(a) of the Maldivian constitution stipulates that “Every citizen has the right to establish and to participate in the activities of political parties.”


MNDF hosting Pakistani Naval vessel ahead of diplomatic meetings

The Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) has said it continues to promote “good relations” with its neighbours as this week it plays host to a Pakistani naval ship visiting the Maldives.

The vessel – known as the PNS Saif – arrived in the Male’ yesterday (April 15), where it presently remains docked.  The ship’s arrival follows the visit last week of two Indian naval vessels.

MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News today (April 16) that there was no significance behind the recent back-to-back visits of the Pakistani and Indian Naval forces.

“The Maldives has good relations with all neighbouring countries, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh,” he said.  “Neighbouring countries’ ships visit often, it is normal.”

The Pakistani High Commissioner to the Maldives, Pakistani citizens living in the Maldives, as well as senior officials from the military and Maldives Police Service are scheduled to visit the naval ship today, according to the MNDF.

The PNF Saif’s commanding officer will then host a “special dinner” on the ship this evening.

A series of other diplomatic meetings and events are scheduled during the ship’s visit, including a special event hosted by the MNDF for Pakistani naval officers tomorrow (April 17).  This is scheduled to be followed by a luncheon hosted by the Pakistani High Commissioner.

Senior PNS Saif officers are also scheduled to meet Minister of State for Defence and National Security Mohamed Muizzu Adnan, Chief of Defence Force Major General Ahmed Shiyam, as well as Commandant Coast Guard Brigadier General Ahmed Shahid.

The ship will remain in the Maldives until April 18.

Indian defence collaboration

Meanwhile, India has assured the Maldives of its commitment to “further enhance defense cooperation and security partnership,” following talks between Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and his Indian counterpart A K Antony on Monday (April 15), the Times of India has reported.

Enhanced defence cooperation between the two nations is expected to include training exercises, capacity building and infrastructure-strengthening, according to media reports.

The Maldives hosted two Indian Naval Ships – the ICGS Varuna and INS Sujata – representing the First Training Squadron last week.

During the “goodwill visit”, a dinner function was held aboard the ships, where new Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Rajeev Shahare, made his first public appearance after assuming the post.

The dinner event was attended by the Maldivian Defence Minister Colonel (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim, other government ministers, diplomats, and high ranking officers from the Maldives military. The Indian government gave the Maldivian government a “contribution”, spare helicopter parts, and gym equipment, reported local media.

Shahare also used the event to praise Maldivian authorities for their “magnanimity” in allowing him to meet senior government officials at this event prior to presenting his credentials to the president, while speaking with local media April 10.

MNDF anniversary

The MNDF has said it is also currently preparing celebrations for its 121st anniversary on April 21 with a “big ceremony” that will include two different events held in the nation’s capital Male’, Colonel Raheem told Minivan News.

A parade is scheduled to take place at 4pm near the tsunami monument in the Henveiru neighborhood of Male’, said Raheem.

An “official gathering, which normally includes all high level delegations” in the Maldives is also being planned for April 25.

As practice for the parade, a military band and MNDF soldiers carrying assorted firearms have been performing early morning marches in formation through Henveiru this week.