40 Somali castaways sent back home after four years

Police have said that 40 Somali castaways that were found in the Maldivian EEZ on different occasions since December 2009 have been sent back to their country.

The police said that all these people were accommodated in Dhoonidhoo Police Custodial remand centre under police charge during their time in the Maldives.

Police said that the Somalis were successfully sent back after cooperation between the government and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

A joint operation was conducted with police Serious and Organized Crime Department, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Aviation Security to send them back, police said.

According to police, the Somalis were sent in a chartered flight and were accompanied with security officers.

The police said that the 40 Somalis included seven castaways rescued on December 2009, another five castaways rescued in the same month.

In 2010, authorities rescued seven Somali nationals on May 26, six were rescued on June 5, two on July 2, seven on November 28. Three more were rescued on 30 November 2010 and another three castaways rescued on December 2011.

In March 2012, a then-senior government official told Minivan News that the castaways under the custody of Maldivian authorities had refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation.

According to the government official, who spoke to Minivan News on condition of total anonymity, the government had devoted “immeasurable amount of time and effort” over the past three years to safely repatriate several Somali nationals who have been discovered in Maldivian waters in dinghies lost at sea.

A delegation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) delegation arrived in the Maldives in 2012 to confirm the Somali’s preferences as no refugee can be repatriated without consent under the international conventions.

The Maldives cannot resort to the option of forced repatriation as Somalia is recognised as an unsafe state.

Maldives has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol citing “financial and technical capacity constraints” but the convention prohibits all states, regardless of whether they have acceded it, from returning a “refugee to a territory where his or her life or freedom is threatened”.


Maldives agrees to repatriation of Somalian detainees

Director of Somalian state Puntland’s Counter-Piracy Directorate, Abdirasak Mohamed Dirir, has travelled to the Maldives to finalise the repatriation of 40 Somalian youths currently detained in the Maldives.

Foreign Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali has confirmed that the director had met with Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and Special Advisor to the President Dr Hassan Saeed.

Muaz said that Dirir had been accompanied by officials from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Dirrir was reported as telling local Puntland paper Garowe Online that the Somalians had been informed of their impending release and were “ecstatic”.

“Our mission was to wrap up the agreement by Puntland and Maldives to free the 40 youth who are currently being held in Maldives. Thanks to God the youth will be heading home as quick as possible,” Dirir is quoted as saying.

Muaz told Minivan News that the agreement had been finalised, with Somalian authorities granted permission to land aircraft to be used for the repatriation, with the funds to be provided by the UNODC.

“We are currently preparing a timeline – hopefully it will take around two months,” said Muiz.

The detained Somalians were apprehended after their boats drifted into Maldivian waters, with some having drifted for months at sea.

Many were found in frail health conditions due to dehydration and malnourishment, and had to undergo long treatments before being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Center, where they were provided temporary refuge until negotiations on repatriation were finalised.

Repatriation was delayed owing to a lack of identification documents for the Somalians and the difficulty of negotiating with the fractious African state – Puntland itself is a semi-autonomous region within Somalia.

However, earlier this year Minivan News was informed by an anonymous government official that repatriation was being delayed due to the detainees reluctance to return to the failed state.

The official reported that, when asked by a delegation representing the United Nations High Commissioner  for Refugees (UNHCR) if they wished to return home, all of the Somalians said no.

The anonymous official observed that the Maldives could not resort to the option of forced repatriation as Somalia is recognised as a unsafe state.

Maldives has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol citing “financial and technical capacity constraints” but the convention prohibits all states, regardless of whether they have acceded it, from returning a “refugee to a territory where his or her life or freedom is threatened”.

“So the project is now a big failure,” he concluded, adding that the Maldives can face “increasing pressures from the international community if it continue with the forced repatriation.”

March saw the first recorded hijacking of a vessel by Somali pirates in Maldivian waters.

The Maldives is situated at a strategic intersection of sea trade routes, and a significant amount of global maritime traffic passes through or near the country’s northern atolls.

The Maldives’ government first expressed concern over the growing piracy threat in 2010 after small vessels containing Somali nationals began washing up on local islands.


Pirates release Danish family taken hostage in February

A Danish family who were captured by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean after departed Haa Alif Atoll in the Maldives have been freed.

Jan Quist Johansen, Birgit Marie, their three teenage children and two members of crew were taken hostage on February 24.

All seven hostages were released. Pirates claimed a ransom of US$3-4 million was paid.


A team of three to sanitise the seas: The Hindu

India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have joined hands to keep the seas in their sphere of influence free from unwanted visitors such as pirates, interlopers and drug runners, reports India’s Hindu newspaper.

“With Somali pirates getting closer, we have deep concern and are working closely with India and Sri Lanka in preventing any unwarranted incident. We have over 25,000 fishermen on the high seas on any given day. Our concern is for their protection as well. We have a surveillance programme to monitor fishing vessels but the point is we have to work in cooperation with the two Coast Guards so that they increasingly exchange information on the movement of suspicious vessels,” Ahmed Naseem told The Hindu at the end of his first visit to India as Maldives Foreign Minister.

“Somali pirates can be bold enough to come all the way to the Maldives. They sacked the Mahe port in Seychelles. They could do that here,” he had said adding Indian assistance was instrumental in the Maldives beefing up its surveillance and patrolling capability. The Maldives had seven radars bought and installed with Indian assistance and they were harmonised with the naval grid here. Recently, India-Maldives security partnership led to the capture of two rogue fishing vessels in the Maldives waters.

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Somali pirates kill four US hostages

Somali pirates have shot and killed four US hostages aboard a hijacked yacht, ‘The Quest’, prompting US Special Forces to storm the vessel.

Two pirates were killed by the soldiers, while the bodies of two more pirates were also found on board. 15 pirates were arrested and taken aboard the nearby USS Enterprise aircraft carrier for extradition to the US.

Somali pirates claimed the four hostages were killed in retaliation for a preemptive strike by US forces.

“Our colleagues called us this morning [saying] that they were being attacked by a US warship,” said a pirate to news agency Reuters over the telephone.

“The US warship shot in the head two of my comrades who were on the deck of the yacht by the time they alerted us. This is the time we ordered the other comrades inside the yacht to react – kill the four Americans because there was no other alternative – then our line got cut.”

Another pirate from a Somali pirate haven told Reuters that “the killing of those four Americans and our comrades is a fair game that has started. Everybody will react if his life is in danger. We should not agree to be killed and let the hostages be freed.”

The claims were dismissed by the US Navy, which had been negotiating for the release of the hostages.

The hostages were identified as Jean and Scott Adam, from Los Angeles and holidaymakers Macay and Bob Riggle, from Seattle.

US authorities have recently voiced concern that pirate activity is moving further into the Indian Ocean, towards the Maldives.


Three more Somalis found in second dinghy near Thinadhoo

A Maldivian fishing boat has discovered another lost dinghy with three Somalis aboard near Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

Captain of the fishing boat Mohamed Hussain told Minivan News that the dinghy was found while the group was out fishing this morning.

”Around 10:15pm this morning we found the dinghy and followed it – there were three men aboard,” said Mohamed. ”One of them was in a very serious condition an has a wound under his neck.”

Mohamed said the other two were in a good condition, as the dingy contained food and 14 barrels of diesel.

”They said someone attacked them and they were trying to flee, after the injured man was stabbed by the attackers,” he said.

Island Councilor of Thinadhoo Mohamed Zahir said that no one had officially reported the case to the island office yet.

Major Abdul Raheem said a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) vessel was on the way to the island.

”After our vessel reaches the island we will disclose more information regarding the case,” he said.

Another dingy with seven Somalis was found on Sunday near Fuvamulah. MNDF officers who searched the vessel discovered a bullet shell in the dingy.


Repatriation of castaways delayed by lack of documents

Police Sergeant Abdul Muhusin has said police are holding 25 castaways in police custody in Dhoonidhoo, while waiting for their respective countries to identify them and provide necessary documents.

Muhusin said that all the castaways would be repatriated when they are identified by their countries.

”The latest castaways (six Somalians) who were rescued on May 16 are currently being kept in Dhoonidhoo custodial,” Muhusin said. ”They were brought there after they were discharged from hospital.”

Muhusin said that many of the castaways carried no passport or identity cards, or any document clarifying who they were and where they were from.

”That’s why it’s taking some time to repatriate them,” Muhusin said.

Police said that the 25 castaways included seven people who were saved on December 1 last year, five people rescued on December 5, seven people saved on May 12 this year and the six men recently discovered in a dinghy near Makunudhoo.

”Police are investigating everyone,” Muhusin said. ”They have claimed that they were out for fishing.”

”They have not been arrested,” Muhusin emphasised.

State Home Minister Ahmed Adil said the investigation of the castaways was still ongoing and he had no idea when they could be repatriated.

State Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said that the Somalian government and Maldivian government together were trying to identify all the men who claimed to be Somalians.

”We have sent the Somalian government pictures of the castaways,” Naseem said.

He said he had no information about the Iranian vessel which was found in Maldivian waters in May, referring Minivan News to the home ministry

However, Adil said he had no information about Iranian vessel.

In May the Maldives Coastguard rescued an Iranian fishing vessel in Maldivian territorial waters, discovering that the crew have been deprived of water and food for several days.

Another Somalian boat was found with a crew of six men on board drifting near the island of Makunudhoo in Haadhaalu Atoll.

Makunudhoo islanders who rescued the men said it appeared they had been drifting in the tiny 12-15 foot vessel for three months without food or water.


India and Seychelles join forces against Somali pirates

After activating a comprehensive security cooperation agreement with Maldives, India will increase maritime cooperation with Seychelles and will help the island nation deal with the increased incidents of piracy occurring near its waters, reports the Indian Express.

While the Navy already has a warship deployed in the Seychelles since April last year — after Somali pirates shifted base near the island chain due to increased international patrolling in the Gulf of Aden — the two countries have agreed to enhance the cooperation during the state visit by Seychelles President James Alix Michel.

“India and Seychelles have agreed to work together in controlling piracy in the Indian Ocean, so that we can try to make sure that this area is safer for economic development. Both countries face the same threat from piracy,” Michel said, addressing a business meet in the capital after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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Mystery around Somalian survivors deepens as health improves

A nurse attending to the Somalian man who was first believed to be dead, and was left inside the anchor locker of a small boat after he was found adrift with five other men, has said he is ”progressing” despite his “serious condition”.

The nurse, on condition of anonymity, told Minivan News that the man was brought to Kulhudhufushi Regional Hospital along with the five men yesterday.

”The man’s condition is very serious,” she said. ”He is admitted in the Intensive Care Unit.”

‘The man has injuries to his back bone and shoulder and is very weak, she said.

The other five men’s condition is now stable, she added.

One of the five Somalian man was due to be buried on the assumption he was dead, after rescuers observed he did not move his body or show any sign of being alive.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that the body was handled to police the next day morning, and claimed it was not the responsibility of the police to declare the death of the person.

Daily newspaper Haveeru reported that the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) confirmed the death of the man after he was checked by a doctor at  Haadhaalu Makunudhu Health Centre.

However, MNDF Major Abdul Raheem denied the claims in Haveeru, claiming they were “misleading”.

Abdul said that MNDF did not ask the doctor to check the body and did not declare the death of the body either.

”When Haveeru contacted us, we told that there was one dead body because when MNDF arrived to the island, the doctor at the health centre told us that five men were admitted to the hospital and one dead man was left in the boat in which they came,” said Abdul. ”We cannot ask the doctor, after he says a man is dead, how he knew that he was dead.”

Abdul said that later MNDF understood that the doctor also did not check the body.

Head of Makunudhu Health Centre Ibrahim Shareef confirmed the doctor did not check the body.

”Police and MNDF also did not,” said Shareef, ”and the doctor was busy attending the five admitted men,”

Shareef said the five men first treated at the health centre were now in a stable condition, leaving the only one man’s condition serious.

An official at Makunudhu said that “most” of the islanders believed the six men were pirates.

He said that there was one “very strong” man, who was really fit compared to other five men, ”and seems to be well trained for such incidents.”

”He was the only man that could stand up, while all others did not have any power,” he said. ”He seems to be the leader of them.”

He said that the alleged leader of the crowd answered even when other member of the crew were questioned.

”When we gave them food, he took it all and divided it among everyone, and he told everyone not to eat too much,” he said. ”Maybe because he understands that they have been starving for a long time and it is not good to eat too much.”

MNDF Major Abdul Raheem said that there was no sign that they were pirates.

”We checked their boat and the nearby uninhabited island also,” he said, ”they had nothing with them.”

He said that according to how the wind was blowing during this monsoon, anybody traveling from Somalia who lost control would potentially be carried towards Maldivian waters.

”But we cannot estimate how long it will take, because the wind blows at different speeds at different times,” he said.

”Somalians use those type of boats both for fishing and piracy,” he added.