MVR22 million fine issued for ship stranded on Thilafushi reef

A cargo ship which ran aground on the reef near Thilafushi earlier this month has been fined MVR22 million (US$1.4 million), the Transport Authority has told local media.

The MV Mutha Pioneer – registered in Dominica – became lodged on the reef to the north west of the industrial island on December 10, with an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency revealing it had caused damage to 588 square meters of reef.

After spending around ten hours stranded on the reef, the Maldives National Defence Force was able to free the 1,900 tonne cargo vessel.

At the start of the year (January 7) a 27,000-tonne vessel called Auguste Schulte became stranded in shallow water while attempting to make a turn near the coast of the Raalhugandu area in Malé.

After assessing the damage caused by this incident, the government claimed damages of MVR 62.7 million (US$4 million).

Source: Haveeru


MTCC not responsible for severe sand spill on Komandoo reef, says environment minister

The state owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) will not be penalised for a severe sand spill on the reef of Komandoo Island in Shaviyani Atoll, Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim told parliament today.

The sand spill – which has destroyed large swathes of the island’s reef – was caused by a storm surge, Thoriq said.

The MTCC – in charge of a coastal protection and land reclamation project on the island – had implemented the required measures to prevent sand spills, but bad weather and swells caused the erosion of reclaimed areas and washed piled up sand onto the reef, Thoriq said.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Komandoo MP Ahmed Nashid blamed the MTCC’s slow progress for the sand spill, claiming the sand piles had been left on the island’s shores since 2012.

If the project had been completed on time, the spill would not have taken place, he suggested.

Minister Thoriq told the Majlis this morning that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) had acknowledged sand had spilled onto the reef.

“However, the island council’s members said the spill was not reported in case it may halt the project,” said Thoriq.

MP Nashid had summoned the minister for questioning, asking if the ministry had done a survey of damages and if the MTCC would be penalised for the spill.

Thoriq said the environment ministry had not been informed of the spill prior to Nashid raising the issue, but had monitored the area afterwards. An EPA team had visited the site and found the MTCC had followed all environmental procedures outlined in the environmental impact assessment report, he explained.

According to Thoriq – who said the exact date of the spill was unknown – explained that the sand had now washed off into the ocean with currents and the reef was showing signs of regeneration.

If any party reports environmental violations, the EPA will inspect site and take required action, he added.

The ministry does not have the capacity to monitor all ongoing projects, and will only begin an inspection if a violation is reported. But the ministry does take punitive action against companies who violate EIAs, he insisted.

The government intends to carry out projects to address erosion in seven islands this year, the minister told MPs, with approximately 97 percent of inhabited islands in the Maldives reporting severe erosion.

The government will spend MVR116.3 million (US$ 7.5 million) on protecting 3,482 meters of shore in the seven islands, he said.

In May, environmental NGO EcoCare accused Netherlands based Boskalis of committing environmental crimes after it caused sand to be deposited onto Baa Atoll Eydhafushi Island during a reclamation project.

The company’s rainbow technique for reclamation had also covered houses and vegetation on Eydhafushi and Raa Meedhoo Island with sand and water.

Minivan News was unable to reach the EPA to confirm if action had been taken against Boskalis for damages.


Week in review: May 10 – 16

The reverberations of the the deputy prosecutor general’s resignation continued to be felt across the criminal justice system this week.

Despite the Supreme Court’s order for confused state prosecutors to return to work, the majority of cases continued to be cancelled as the courts struggled to adjudicate on the leadership vacuum at the PG’s Office.

This confusion was typified by Drug Court Judge Mahaz Ali, who expressed his disagreement with the government’s suggestion that a ‘state of necessity’ existed, enabling the most senior state prosecutor to assume the office’s responsibilities.

While the Supreme Court announced the formation of a committee to review current judicial laws, the judicial watchdog said it would look into Judge Mahaz’s blogging.

Further examination into a large crack in the Meedhoo Island reef will be required as experts admitted that the long-term effects of the 13 metre fissure were unknown.

The discovery was made amid a mammoth 20 hectare reclamation project on the island conducted by Boskalis International. The Dutch company – currently conducting numerous projects in the country – came under this fire week for what local NGOs have called “environmental crimes” during its recent dredging activities.

The accusations did not stop authorities mooting Boskalis as the likely partner for the government’s second reclamation phase of the Hulhumalé development project.

Speaking at the launch of another Boskalis project in Thulusdhoo, President Abdulla Yameen urged the Anti-Corruption Commission to expedite stalled cases concerning infrastructure projects.

Reclamation projects could take on a new urgency should this week’s prediction from climate change experts prove true, as it was revealed that the collapse of antarctic glaciers has the potential to increase sea levels by 1.2 metres in coming centuries.

The completion of a Japanese sponsored solar energy project this week will be scant consolation to pessimists.

Pessimism regarding the buoyancy of the country’s democracy was evident in Transparency Maldives Democracy at Crossroads’ survey this week which revealed extraordinarily high levels of cynicism within the electorate.

Skepticism was also evident at the Human Rights Commission’s ‘National Inquiry on Access to Education for Children with Disabilities’ as parents questioned the state’s efforts to provide education to all.

The Capital Market Development Authority meanwhile was optimistic that the country can be developed into a global financial centre, while the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA)warned that further fiscal “slippages” would undermine the country’s debt sustainability.

The prospect of increased wage expenditure by the government receded once more, however, as the president returned the pay commission bill to the Majlis for the third time this week.

The MMA’s warning was not enough to prevent President Yameen pledging MVR1 million to the national football team, should it reach the last four of the AFC Cup – scheduled to start in Malé and Addu next week.

Visiting football fans who take a liking to the country’s southernmost atoll will soon be able to return to stay in one of the 2000 guesthouse beds that Addu City Council aims to develop via its Guesthouse Tourism Promotion Board.

Finally, suggestions by the US State Department that Maldivian authorities were aware of funds being raised for terrorism abroad were rejected, as were the Maldivian Democratic Party’s suggestions that the extremist ideologies were becoming prevalent within the security services.


Government issues MVR 62.7 million compensation claim for stranded ship reef damage

The government has issued a MVR 62.7 million (US$ 4 million) compensation claim for damages caused to the coral reef on Male’s east coast by a stranded cargo ship.

Earlier this month (January 7) a 27,000-ton vessel called ‘Auguste Schulte’ became stranded in shallow water while attempting to make a turn near the coast of the Raalhugandu area in Male’.

Tug boats, assisted by the Maldives National Defence Force, were able to refloat the 213 metre long ship after a three-hour effort, local media reported.

A subsequent investigation by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) calculated the damage to the reef to be worth MVR 62,733,800, Chairman of the Transport Authority Abdul Rasheed Nafiz told Minivan News.

“[Auguste Schulte’s local operator] Silver Company can either pay the fine to the government so the ship can continue its voyage or pay a bank guarantee should they wish to carry out their own investigation and let the ship leave.

“From what I understand, [Silver Company] intend to carry out their own survey and through that they will try negotiate the compensation claim cost,” Nafiz added.

The Transport Authority Chairman said that the Attorney General had stated under the Environment Protection Law that the government has the right to assess the damage to reef and calculate the cost of such damage.

The Transport Authority earlier stated that the government could impose a fine of MVR 85,000 (US$ 5,508) per square metre of damage caused to the reef.

Mohammed Nabeel, Managing Director of Silver Company, told local media that the company had begun efforts to try and secure the bank guarantee that currently stood at $4 million.

“We are trying to make sure that the ship departs as soon as possible. We do believe that there must be a fine in this matter, but the government has also said that there is room for negotiation,” he was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

Nabeel added that the company was also trying to assess the damages caused by the stranded vessel, and that negotiations will be based on their findings, local media reported.

Previously, a ship operated by Delmas – the same company local media reported to have owned Auguste Schulte – became stranded in the same area for 20 days.

Nabeel told local media that the compensation claim for that previous ship was set at MVR 4.5 million (US$ 291,828), adding that the contrast between the two figures is “remarkable”.

Responding to these comments, Nafiz said that the EPA has produced a report on the latest damage and Silver Company will be able to compare the two incidents as the conclusion is based on “the same formula”.

Environment Protection Agency were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.


Tourists and crew unhurt in safari boat reef collision

No injuries have been reported after a safari boat yesterday collided with a reef in Maldivian waters, military officials have confirmed.
Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem said that crew and tourists aboard the crashed vessel had since been transferred to another diving boat.  The MNDf spokesperson said he was unsure as yet if the boat had been removed from the reef where it collided.
The Sun Online news agency reported that the collision occurred yesterday evening within the reef of  K. Fushidhiggaru and involved a boat called the Royal Manta.  According to the report, 23 tourists and 15 crew were on-board the vessel at the time of the crash.

Tourist volunteers collecting data to protect Maldives reef ecosystems

A team of 15 volunteers from around the world have begun an expedition in the Maldives to collect data that will be used to compare and protect the health of the country’s vulnerable reef ecosystems.

The amateur marine biologists from countries as diverse as Germany, Russia, Australia and the Maldives have departed on a week-long tour aboard the luxury live-aboard Carpe Diem, during which they will be trained up on the Reef Check program and conduct as many as three research dives a day under the supervision of a team of professional biologists.

The hands-on ‘voluntourism’ trip is organised by not-for-profit wildlife conservation organisation Biosphere Expeditions and Six Senses resorts, which has provided a grant of US$79,000 over the four year program, and scholarships for two young Maldivians – Nishan Thoufeeg and Ahmed Shan – to participate on the trip.

At a press conference launching the expedition this morning, Executive Director of Biosphere Expeditions Dr Matthias Hammer explained that the objective was to involve ordinary people in conservation efforts while generating scientifically-rigorous data that can be used to recommend and implement policy.

Previous expeditions have focused snow leopards in Central Asia, turtles in Australia and jaguars in Brazil, “usually charismatic megafauna,” Hammer said.

Dr Jean-Luc Solantt, a scientist from the Marine Conservation Society in the UK who is accompanying the volunteers, noted that there was a lack of “basic, coarse-level data” required for monitoring reef ecosystems.

“We need to know what is happening on a national scale. The [Reef Check] program has a very basic methodology but it is very scientifically robust.”

The data would contribute to the monitoring and understanding of commercial fish populations, determine the reefs most resilient to environmental pressures, and serve as an early warning system for problems related to warming, bleaching and algae.

“In 1998 the water temperature reached 32 degrees for 4-6 weeks, and that caused most of the reefs down to 30 metres in the Maldives to die,’ he explained. “This data will help us see the pattern of recovery from that global impact, and recommend places that should be made marine protected areas.”

Solantt will check and evaluate the data collected by the group and produce a report based on the expedition. The data will then be collated and made available to scientists worldwide, as well as the Maldives Marine Research Centre (MRC) and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Project, if any of the creatures are spotted.

The group also presented 2500 copies of a colouring book, ‘The Adventures of Anees the Anemonefish’, to State Minister of Education Ibrahim Rasheed.

The book, written by Soneva Fushi’s Marine Biologist Kate Wilson and illustrated by Maldivian artist ‘Angel’, is intended to raise awareness around reef protection and inspire children to seek a career in environmental protection.

“Our country is the most beautiful in the world and we want to keep it that way,” said Deputy Minister Rasheed, “but we can only make policies based on the information and data we receive.”

“We need to make sure people are aware of the fragility of our environment. Education can create this awareness, which is why environment studies is a compulsory subject in the new curriculum,” he said.

Presenting the book "The Adventures of Anees The Anemonefish" to the Deputy Minister of Education

Program participants arrived last night from Europe, North America, Russia, Australia, Asia and the Maldives. Some had participated in previous Biosphere projects.

Tina Kuersten from Germany said the biggest results of a Biosphere expedition are seen long-term. “After my first expedition in Altai, I would get emails and updates about the project. It was great to see the results of our work, and to see how I had contributed to something significant.”

Kuersten’s husband Uwe said, “The value of these trips is that you can do something valuable, and learn more about biology.” He said seeing results motivated him to stay involved.

Riswil Ismail, who is from Malaysia, had followed Biosphere’s work for several years. She said in spite of the prohibitive cost, the diving aspect was very attractive.

“I’ve done a lot of dives, and I think because Malaysia and the Maldives are similar it would be great to learn about conservation in this way.”

Ismail said that the concept of paying to go on a volunteer work vacation was “not so popular” in Malaysia.

“People can donate money to a cause, but they don’t always get to see what their money can do. Paying to work on a vacation is a harder concept to understand in Asia, but I think it’s a really valuable way to contribute to a cause. If Maldives is doing this, why not Malaysia?”

Curnow said the average participant is “a well-educated person with a good job who wants to learn something new.” She said that scholarship programs are designed to attract students from the target location. This year, Six Senses’ Soneva Fushi and Soneva Gili resorts are co-sponsoring two Maldivians to take part in the expedition.

Biosphere Expeditions will run trips this week and next week; results are usually published six to eight months afterwards.


Cracks in reef could cause Male’ to collapse, warns Ministry of Agriculture

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has raised the alarm over cracks appearing in Male’ reef, after surveys revealed they could eventually cause the reef to collapse just as it did in January outside the Nasandhura Hotel.

State Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr Mohamed Ali, said the cracks in Malé reef are “serious problems because it is the reef on which we are building this infrastructure.”

He said the amount of weight and activity around the reef is “debilitating the structure [and] part of it has already collapsed.”

“Cracks are a significant threat to infrastructure,” he said. “We fear some of the reef face might just fall off.”

Dr Ali said although there were many options being looked to try and resolve or alleviate the issue, “nothing is being done” at the moment. He added one of the simplest options to help relieve the pressure on the reefs was to “reduce the load” they are subjected to.

He said although some of the cracks were natural, “it is [mostly] due to some external forces that exacerbate it.”

He added that the effect of pollution and contamination were also of major concern.

Director of Environmental Protection and Research at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ibrahim Naeem said although “cracks are a common occurrence… there are some threats.”

He said the cracks were occurring “on the reef structure, on the non-living basement of the reef.”

Naeem noted “there is a possibility of collapse” and added “it has happened in many regions,” including in Malé near the Hulhumalé ferry terminal. He said the north-east area of the island was the most vulnerable.

The cracks were usually caused “when people start making buildings and heavy structures, and loading and unloading heavy equipment and goods,” such as granite rock, near vulnerable areas of the reef.

He noted it is “really hard to reconstruct [the reef base]” and if it was to be done, reconstruction might have to start from the sea bed. “We would have to be careful,” he suggested.

Naeem said there had been some studies on the corals around Malé which concluded “it is not a good idea to build heavy structures in these [vulnerable] areas.”

He said the government has also “advised agencies not to give licences to build high structures in those areas.”

Head of Malé Municipality Adam Manik said the incident in front of Nasandhuraa Hotel in Malé, where part of the reef seemingly collapsed, “has nothing to do with the coral reef. It’s the piling.”

Manik said some of the metal pilings beneath Malé, which are 18 inches wide, “don’t reach the lagoon floor bed.”

He said due to “wave action,” the sand beneath the pilings loosens, leaving a gap between the sea bed and the pilings.

He said on 1 January 2010, when the reef collapsed at the hotel, he rushed to Malé to find “several ministries were involved, making a mountain out of a mole-hole.”

He said it would be very “irresponsible of the government” if they were “not giving due credence to these things if they are true.”

Manik said there could be caves in the reef, which would account for the sightings of large cracks. But overall, he said he felt “the whole concept is wrong.”

Building codes stipulate the height of buildings should be determined by the size of their base, but there is no code that limits the weight of a building, Manik added.

Currently, Malé Municipality is in charge of overseeing constructions and making sure they follow the building codes.

Ali Rilwan from environmental NGO Bluepeace said there are places in the reef where “reef slope failure” can be found, meaning the reef has sloped down, as it would happen in a landslide.

Rilwan noted there were some incidents in 1991 when dynamite was used to place the cables for a desalination plant and caused cracks in the reefs. The reef was damaged again near the Hulhumalé ferry terminal, he said, when the sea wall was being put in.

Rilwan said the barge that was transporting all the rocks to build the sea wall unloaded from this area, where the barge was anchored for a long period of time. This in itself, he said, could have worsened sloping of the reef, if not caused it.


Fishing vessel runs aground and sinks

A fishing vessel sank after it ran aground on Alifushi reef in Raa atoll this morning.

‘Kandu Roalhi 7’ of Alif Alif Ukulhahu left the Alifhushi harbour this morning at around 5:55am, experienced engine failure and crashed into the reef.

Another dhoni attempted to tow the vessel back to Alifhushi harbour, but during this process Kandu Roalhi 7 sank into the harbour.

MNDF northern command sent coastguard divers to the scene and together with the stricken vessel’s crew they managed to raise the vessel.

The coastguard website stated no one was hurt in this incident. This is the second incident of this nature in two days


Fishing dhoni runs aground

A dhoni on a sea cucumber harvesting trip ran aground on Laamu Gaaerifaru reef this morning.

According to the Maldives coast guard, the dhoni belonged to Ibrahim Ali of Raa Rasgetheemu. The accident occured at 8.50am this morning and the coast guard was contacted immediately.

A craft including police was dispatched from Laamu Madivaru and recovered the dhoni by 9:40am.

None of the six people on board were hurt, although the coastguard noted that the dhoni did not have a safety certificate nor was it carryng life jackets.