Tourists stranded in Maldives in liveaboard scams

Dozens of tourists are stranded each year in the Maldives by scams involving liveaboards, harming the country’s reputation among visitors, boat owners say.

Scammers use fraudulent websites to collect payments on liveaboards without the owner’s knowledge, leaving tourists stranded at the airport.

Others sell holidays on luxury cruisers, but when tourists arrive in the Maldives, transfer them to low-grade boats.

Boat owners are speaking out about the problem for the first time, saying they decided to do so out of frustration over a lack of action against the fraudsters.

Some 81 liveaboards — boats on which tourists stay for several nights, also known as safari boats — operate in the Maldives, offering surfing and diving trips, some with luxury accommodation.

A safari boat owner, who asked not to be named, said an Indian dive tour operator alerted him on March 19 to a Maldivian company selling a holiday on his boat without his knowledge.

He told Minivan News the government has failed to take action on scammers.

“This is very destructive and tarnishes the Maldives’ image,” he said, calling on the ministry to suspend licenses and blacklist fraudulent tour operators.

Amir Mansoor, the owner of the luxury liveaboard Carpe Diem, also said that liveaboard scams are frequent.

“This is very concerning, even if it’s two or fifty tourists a year, and affects the Maldives’ image,” he said.

Deputy tourism minister Hussain Lirar, however, denied any knowledge of fraud, but said the government would take action through law enforcement agencies against scammers.

The anonymous liveaboard owner said that at least 88 Russian and German tourists were stranded in November 2013 after a scam, and said he had rescued some tourists from the group.

The Liveaboard Association of Maldives (LAM) this week said it had received complaints from foreign tour operators, mostly in India and Hong Kong, involving fake bookings and operators collecting payments without offering a service.

“The scams involve fraudulent websites claiming to be authorized travel agents offering cheap liveaboards,” the organization said, following the March 19 alert from the Indian tour operator.

In the email obtained by Minivan News, the Indian company said it had been saved from fraud by its contacts in the Maldives and urged LAM to take action to ensure “those advertising as Maldivian agents do not defraud gullible tourists.”

LAM subsequently advised holidaymakers and tour operators to be wary of rock bottom prices in the Maldives and to book through agents listed on its website or reputable travel companies listed by the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators.

There are currently 1,367 beds available on safari boats in the Maldives, often costing hundreds of dollars a night.

A Hong Kong-based tour operator, which says it sends 2000 guests to the Maldives every year, said a tour operator called Poseidon Tours in 2012 stranded several guests “desperately in Malé without any excuse,” according to leaked emails.

Although the tourism ministry denied knowledge of scams, the emails show the operator wrote to the ministry and LAM throughout 2012 and 2013 asking them to penalise the scammer. The company threatened to go public with the scandal and asked for a response “before I do something that might hurt all of us.”

“It was the not the first case to our company and on and off we heard that other agents/guests were having similar experiences. I don’t think that this is a good reputation to your country,” the operator said.

The operator reimbursed its clients, but Minivan News was unable to confirm whether the government had taken action against Poseidon Tours.


Safari operators in online picture controversy deny shark fishing

The operators of a Safari boat whose staff and visitors were pictured with endangered shark species have assured that they pay special attention to environmental conservation, denying that the images showed shark fishing.

Furamaana Travels – which operates the Bolero Safari boat – told Minivan News that several endangered and protected species including sharks and sting rays were caught before being released back into the ocean after removing the lines and hooks.

“How would they know what they caught before they fish it out of the water? As soon as it was discovered that endangered species were caught, the safari crew removed the hooks and line. They were released into the sea, unharmed”, said a Furamaana staff member.

Photos of a night-fishing trip on the boat have prompted outrage, as they appeared to show tourists and staff members holding several species of live shark – which are protected under Article 4 (a) of the Environment Protection Act.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Director General Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News that it is currently contacting the relevant parties, including Furamaana Travels, to clarify information about the matter.

“We will only be able to take any steps after all facts surrounding the matter has been clarified. We will take action depending on the severity of the offence”, Naeem stated.

Ali Rilwan, Executive Director of local environmental NGO Bluepeace stated that the NGO does not feel the incident to be an issue “from a conservation point of view” as the caught animals were released back into the ocean.

“Safaris in Maldives operate in a very ethically correct manner, once caught they cannot just cut the line and release it, they have to remove the line and hook before doing so. Taking a photo before the release is not an issue, I do not see this in a negative light”, said Rilwan.

Local NGOs last month condemned images showing a turtle being cut in half for its eggs and meat, prompting the fisheries ministry to commence work on introducing stricter fines – up to MVR10 million (US$650,000) for illegal capture of turtles and tortoises.

Meanwhile, a ceremony was held today at EPA Agency to award the fishermen of Madduvari in Meemu Atoll for rescuing a stranded whale-shark from a shallow lagoon near Maduvvari Island.

Related to this story

Fisheries Ministry to set up stricter fines for turtle hunting

Environmental NGOs call for action as images of turtle slaughter surface

Marine biologist discovers turtle, shark slaughter in Maldives’ UNESCO biosphere reserve


Three arrested following seizure of over 100 bottles of alcohol

The Maldives Police Service has arrested three people on suspicion of smuggling over 100 bottles of alcohol into Male’ on a local boat (dhoni), local media has reported.

The arrests were made after the police Drug Enforcement Department seized the alcohol shipment – mostly thought to consist of bottles of whisky – from a dhoni that  arrived in the capital yesterday (May 17).

According to Sun Online, the dhoni was suspected of being used to transport the alcohol from a safari boat that was later raided by police.

Two Maldivian nationals aged 42 and 23 were reportedly arrested during the raid. A 22 year-old foreigner was also taken into custody in connection to the seized alcohol.

Investigations are presently continuing, Sun Online has reported.


Largest safari boat ever constructed in the Maldives launched

The largest safari yacht ever constructed in the Maldives was launched from Alifushi port in Raa Atoll on April 22, local media reports.

The vessel was commissioned by Polish company “Scuba Spa”, which is registered in the Maldives, and constructed by Alifushi Island resident Mohamed Yusuf.

The 167 foot by 37 foot boat was under construction for two years and four months, Yusuf told local media. In 2010, an electrical fault caused the vessel and construction shed to burn down, however construction was re-started the following year.

While Scuba Spa has spent approximately MVR 5 million (US$ 324,255) on the boat, the construction costs alone totalled nearly MVR 3 million (US$ 194,553), according to Yusuf.

Lowering the vessel into the water took the construction team three months, he added.

The safari yacht is currently being loaded with travel necessities and Scuba Spa plans for the first passengers to arrive May 4, Yusuf said.


Cabinet to establish safari boat marina near Male’

A safari yacht marina is to be established in near Male’ to provide safe port facilities for vessels, local media has reported.

The President’s Office said cabinet made the decision after discussing a paper presented by the Ministry of Transport and Communication.

The cabinet noted that safari boats – which often serve alcohol on board – are one of the main generators of foreign currency.

According to local media, a competitive bidding process will be used to find an appropriate party for the project.


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.