Family of missing Maail criticise police response

The family of 24-year-old Abdulla Maail, reported missing on January 27, has expressed concerns that police have been negligent in their investigation of his disappearance.

Lhaimagu Island Council has echoed these concerns, saying they are “not at all satisfied” with the manner the police have handled parts of the investigation.

Maail – from Dhaalu Atoll Kudahuvadhoo – went missing from the uninhabited island of Firunbaidhoo in Shaviyani Atoll, where he was employed on an agriculture project.

Only one other person, 62-year-old Hassan Ali, was on the island at the time of the disappearance. He reported Maail to be missing on the afternoon of January 27, according to police.

Police officials have denied the suggestions of negligence, saying that the search up to this point had been prompt and thorough.

‘Delays narrow chances of finding Maail’: Council

Lhaimagu Councillor Ahmed Shinan said the police had taken long time to respond after the disappearance was reported, expressing concern that the chances of finding Maail had subsequently narrowed.

“Hassan Ali told us, in the presence of other council members and police, that he reported Maail’s disappearance to police at 4.30pm. Police, however, did not arrive on the island until after 11pm that night,” claimed the councillor.

“It took over 6 hours for police to come, when the distance between Firunbaidhoo and Fonadhoo can be travelled in just under 10 minutes by speedboat. We heard later from the island’s proprietor that police refused to come until he arranged speed boat transfer for them”.

Police today acknowledged  some “transportation challenges” after the case was reported, but said they had begun work on the case immediately after being alerted.

“We only received reports at 6.30pm and I think police reached the scene around 9pm,” a media official told Minivan News.

According to the Shinan, however, locals waited hours for police to arrive at the scene.

Locals search the island of Firunbaidhoo

“This was valuable time wasted when we could have commenced the search for Maail. We’re talking about a human being that’s gone missing, not some petty robbery. We cannot afford to be careless in the investigation,” he said.

Shinan said that the police had left the island unattended after the initial search, giving potentially guilty parties an opportunity to eliminate or tamper with evidence.

He also argued that witnesses had not been investigated thoroughly enough, suggesting that reports of a supply dinghy having visited the island minutes before Maail’s absence was realised could be key.

The councillor also expressed disappointment that it took police over two days to begin searching the sea.

Police have denied the delay, saying that the coast guard-assisted search began the day after the reported disappearance. Officials declined from giving further details as the investigation continues.

Family feels unsupported

Maail’s brother Mohamed Shifau has travelled to the capital Malé from Meemu atoll, after the family had been unable to contact Shaviyani police.

“We have continuously tried calling the head of the Shaviyani Police Station to ask for updates on the investigation, but he hasn’t answered our calls even once in the past week,” he told Minivan News.

“There are certain aspects of the investigation that we believe the police overlooked, some people that they haven’t questioned, and so on. We shared that information with the police in Malé.”

The family have also sent a letter outlining their concerns to the Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed, though they have as yet received no reply.

Dissatisfied with the response from police, Shifau appealed to politicians for assistance, meeting with politicians across the spectrum.

“The Shaviyani Atoll Fonadhoo constituency’s parliamentarian Ali Saleem met with us, but said he could give us no more than five minutes. He stated that the police will investigate the matter and there is nothing else he can do for us,” Shifau explained.

After failing to contact Kudahuvadhoo constituency MP Ahmed Amir, Shifau met with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“The MDP was very sympathetic, and Chairperson Ali Waheed promptly arranged a meeting with a committee from the party. They provided assistance by guiding our family on future steps that can be taken,” Shifau said.



16-year-old girl now missing for 49 days

Police have yet to reveal any information on the missing 16-year-old girl, Fathimath Malha, who was reported missing on August 25.

Local media has reported the case as being a ‘runaway’, though police media have declined from explaining on what basis the case is being investigated.

“I can only confirm that the matter is being presently investigated. We will not be revealing any further details to media,” an official told Minivan News.

A description of the missing girl on the police website states that she is dark eyed, curly haired, slim, and tall.

Police have sought public assistance on the case, appealing to citizens to contact them on 3322111 or their Family and Child Protection Department on 9790163 if anyone possesses any information regarding the case.


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.