The rise and fall of the Maldivian shipping fleet

Maldivians and the ocean have always gone hand-in-hand. Maldivians have always been good seamen, and the country’s sea-going culture has always been strong.

During President Nasir’s rule, Maldives Shipping Limited (MSL) was one of the region’s leading shipping companies.

Under the leadership of Ali Umar Maniku and the late Ali Hussein Didi, the company prospered as the flag carrier of the Maldives.

During the 50s and 60s, the MSL had a fleet of almost 60 ships. Many of these were ancient vessels, but due to the hard work of their crews were kept running at very high standards.

“There wasn’t a day when a port in Colombo, Bombay, Karachi, the Gulf or the Red sea had at least five MSL ships,” says a shipping analyst and former captain of a MSL vessel.

“All MSL ships in those days had the red white and green colours of the Maldivian flag painted as stripes onto the funnel; it was a very prestigious company.”

Maldivian seamen were recognised and sought after by international companies for their work ethic, despite being paid very basic salaries.

The MSL fleet was maintained due to the hard work of the many seamen – their diligence kept the ageing ships in excellent condition: “There wasn’t a moment when they wouldn’t be painting a hull.”

These were the glory days of the Maldivian shipping industry. Ships were running profitably and making a huge contribution to the Maldivian economy.

Fall of a fleet

However during the 80s, MSL ran into hardship. Most of the fleet consisted of bulk carriers, while container ships were fast becoming the preferred vessel for many shipping companies.

MSL was unable to keep up with the fast moving modern shipping industry, and its ageing vessels had finally reached their last port.

Many blame the fall of the MSL on the government at the time, for not investing enough in such a vital sector.

In a recent interview with Dhi FM, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said “When I became president, the shipping that existed had started to decline… in the reign of the president before me, during Ibrahim Nasir’s time, vessels that were shipwrecked were salvaged and repaired for use. Then very old boats, as old as 20 or 25 years, were bought to create the shipping line.”

“What came next was the change to container shipping. We didn’t have [it] at the time. When it changed to container shipping, we had to find bigger boats that could fit containers. We didn’t have the capacity for it.”

However, many other parties believe this isn’t the case.

The shipping analyst told Minivan News that “If private parties could succeed in the shipping industry, I don’t see any reason why the flag carrier of the nation couldn’t succeed. The fleet was outdated, and the focus was not on the number of ships anymore, rather the total tonnage.”


Many people believe that the fall of the MSL was due to mismanagement and negligence.

In the 80’s, all vessels of the MSL were under the same company name, and all were under one insurance company.

In 1983, this particular insurance company went bankrupt and many MSL ships began to be impounded at ports.

This happened whenever an insurance claim was made against them – even if a ship did not have a claim against them, all sailed under the same company and were stopped for being a sister ship.

This most probably led to the fall of MSL.

What followed was an attempt to modernise the fleet. All the ships were renamed and each sailed under a different company.

MSL was renamed Maldives National Shipping Management Limited, MNSML, and the fleet size decreased. The size of the ships did begin to increase, but these ships were mostly still bulk carriers even though container shipping was becoming popular.

Today MNSML is known as MNSL, and opereates a modest fleet of three ships. The potential for growth is still there, as the Maldives still lies in the middle of a popular shipping route.