Eco-friendly resort holds 24-hour scuba diving event

Eco-friendly resort Angsana Ihuru hosted a 24 hour scuba diving event to mark the 14th anniversary of its Rannamaari shipwreck and highlight the importance of protecting coral and marine life in the Maldives.

Seventy people representing 12 nationalities – including scuba divers representing all levels of experience, underwater photo journalists, and guests – participated in the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event, kicked off April 25.

A total of 138 dives and a 24-hour live webcast broadcast worldwide showcased the extraordinary marine diversity and beauty of the Maldives as well as the unique ecosystem that has developed on the shipwreck.

“The Maldives is well known for its natural beauty and among the island resorts Ansana Ihuru in particular is known for its beautiful house reef. The resort was renovated last year and attention was focused on the Marine Centre, because it is the underwater beauty we’d like to share,” said Executive Assistant Manager Henar Rios at the event’s opening ceremony.

The resort boasts of having one of the best ‘house reefs’ in the Maldives. “Seventy-five percent of Angsana Ihuru’s beauty is underwater,” Rios told Minivan News. She further explained that the resort has a 30 percent guest return rate, whereas most resorts average only five percent, even with special incentive programs in place.

“The Rannamaari wreck is now a living structure and symbol which is an extension of our reef that we will protect and share with pride,” Rios added.

The Rannamaari wreck was previously used as a dredging ship on a nearby island and was towed to Angsana Ihuru in 1999 to be used as an artificial reef. However, the ship sank “mysteriously” several days before the planned event and has since become a home for thousands of sea creatures and corals at a depth of 28 metres.

Scuba divers immediately took to the water to explore the reef following the open ceremony, which included a traditional bodu beru (drumming) performance and kurumba (tender coconut) refreshments.

Throughout the day divers and snorkelers were rotating in and out the water, exploring the Rannamaari wreck just off-shore from both the Marine Centre and Velaavani (shallow bay) Bar.

In addition to the daytime dives, a variety of unique scuba experiences took place to highlight the marine environment’s astounding changes which occur daily, including the “before dusk”, “fluorescent” underwater life, midnight, and “before dawn” dives.

A “try scuba” opportunity catered to non-certified divers, with Angsana Ihuru’s professional dive instructors carefully facilitating participants’ first underwater breathing experience in the island’s shallow lagoon.

The Rannamaari Play was a highlight of the anniversary celebration events. Resort staff creatively recounted the historical Maldivian folklore tale through a shadow-theatre performance accompanied by music and narration.

The sea demon Rannamaari previously terrorized the Maldivian people by demanding the sacrifice of a virgin girl each full moon. However, the Maldivians were saved by a Muslim traveler, who disguised himself as a women and stayed overnight in the temple reading verses of the Quran, causing Rannamaari to disappear forever. Following the traveler’s victory over the demon, the Maldives embraced Islam as a nation in 1153 AD.

Immediately following the play, the Male’-based band Flower Rain provided guests with live music at the bar.

Throughout the day’s events resort’s staff provided an assortment of delicious refreshments – including traditional Maldivian ‘short eats’ – to guests and participants, demonstrating the resort’s genuine hospitality.

In line with Angsana Ihuru’s environmental conservation focus, five percent of earnings generated from the anniversary events dives will be donated to sister-company Banyan Tree’s Green Imperative Fund, which supports community and environmental projects around the world.

The Maldivian telecommunications company Wataniya sponsored the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event.

“Unique, dive centric resort”

“The highlight of the event was the spirit that was shown by the staff of the island and the in house guests. Plus the online users who kept the momentum going,” the Marine Centre Manager and dive base leader for both Angsana Ihuru and Banyantree Maldives Vabbinfaru Adam Rasheed told Minivan News.

“The Rannamaari wreck is unique because you can swim in simply. It is very close to the reef, which means more or less all levels of divers, even a person who is in the water for the first time, will have a chance to see this.

“Now the wreck is like an artificial reef. The fish life is very, very good and very special, not to mention so easy to access,” Rasheed said.

Average underwater visibility peaks at 30 meters, while the reef drops away gradually from the powder-white sandy shoreline.

Rasheed explained that the initial idea for the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event came to him during a night dive.

“The dive was really, really good and I wondered when will two of the most important people in my life – my mom and aunt – get the chance to see something like this? So we started to build on that idea to also reflect the reopening of the resort following last year’s renovations, as well as commemorate the 14th anniversary of the wreck,” Rasheed said.

“Angsana Ihuru is trying to do something unique with more of a focus on the water and divers, to position ourselves as a dive centric resort.

“Over the years Ihuru has had an environmental focus and so we wanted to complement this and take the concept to a new level,” he added.

Rasheed further explained that during the recent renovations, the entire dive center structure was changed to reflect the resort’s focus on the underwater environment, diving, and snorkeling.

Angsana Ihuru claims to be the first resort in the Maldives to offer SNUBA, where breathing air is supplied from a long hose that is connected to a floating raft on the surface, allowing guests to dive up to six metres.

“For those who prefer snorkelling or are new to scuba diving, this gives a feel for diving without the need for deep underwater submersion.”

A plethora of marine life frequents the vibrant coral reef surrounding the resort island, including giant moray eels, scorpion fish, stingrays, eagle rays, manta rays, batfish, nurse sharks, big jack fish, and sea turtles.

Pictures and videos from the “10 to 10 Rannamaari wreck” event can be found on the Ihuru Funa Facebook or Twitter pages.


Italian tourist dies in propeller accident while snorkeling

A 51 year-old Italian tourist died in a boat propeller accident while snorkeling on Thursday afternoon (January 31) near Elaa Island in Thaa Atoll.

Minivan News spoke to Veymandoo Regional Hospital Manager Abdulla Mauroof about the incident, who confirmed that the woman was pronounced dead on arrival.

According to Mauroof, the woman suffered a “major injury to her skull”.

“Her body is still being held under police charge at the hospital and a police forensics team has been dispatched,” Mauroof added.

The snorkeling accident was reported at 14:50. The dive boat operator has not been confirmed at this time.

Veymandoo police are currently investigating the incident.

Snorkeling deaths

During 2012, tourist deaths – usually while snorkelling – were disproportionately higher among Chinese tourists, who now account for a majority of Maldives tourist arrivals compared to the country’s traditional European markets.

In October 2012, a 26 year-old male from China staying at Alif Dhaal Atoll Vakafaru resort was suspected to have died in a snorkelling accident at the property.


MNDF divers retrieve body of missing Korean tourist

Police have confirmed that the body of a Korean tourist reported missing yesterday (December 17) from Meedhuhparu resort in Raa Atoll has been discovered today in a joint operation conducted with staff at the property and a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) dive team.

Authorities have said that the body of the deceased, identified as 32 year-old Korean national Dohwan Oh, has been transported to Male’ and is now awaiting repatriation.

In a statement issued today, the Maldives Police Service has said that the deceased was discovered 20 metres underwater in the area where he was first reported missing following a snorkelling excursion with his wife.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef could not confirm when exactly the body would be repatriated at the time of press.

Tourist safety

Addressing the growing influx of tourists from Asian destinations coming to the Maldives, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor today pledged in local media to enforce stricter safety measures across the industry to try and cut down potential snorkelling incidents.

Adheeb stated that the industry must evolve and adapt to the changing market geared increasingly towards Asian visitors who were generally not as adept at swimming as tourists from more established markets.  According to the tourism minister, this evolution includes increasing ocean awareness for tourists while monitoring and strengthening existing regulations.

“If such incidents keep repeating it is a major concern. It will adversely affect our tourism. We need to change the services being provided with the market,” Adheeb told local media.

Missing Chinese national

Meanwhile, Police Spokesperson Haneef said today he was unable to comment over whether the case of another tourist who went missing from the Bandos Island Resort and Spa earlier this month – initially suspected to be a snorkelling incident – was presently being treated as a criminal investigation.

Immigration authorities confirmed Saturday (december 15) that a Chinese national allegedly linked to the disappearance of a tourist staying at a Maldives holiday resort had fled the country, defying a court-mandated travel ban issued Wednesday (December 12).

Local media had previously reported that the husband of Chinese tourist Song Yapin,who went missing from the Bandos Island Resort and Spa on December 6, had accused a fellow Chinese national staying at the property of murdering his wife.

Haneef said that as police investigations were ongoing into the incident, no details on the nature of its work could be given at present.

The MNDF confirmed on Saturday that the search to locate the missing Chinese national was continuing.  However, MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem said that the country’s coastguard had presently ceased sending out dive teams to explore local waters.

“We will not be calling off our operation until the person is found, but we will be amending our operation on a daily basis,” Colonel Raheem said at the time.


Divers continue search for Chinese tourist missing from Maldives resort

Coastguard divers are trying to locate a Chinese tourist reported missing from the Bandos Island Resort and Spa property since Thursday (December 6).

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem said that a diving team was conducting further searches of the area surrounding the resort to try and locate the tourist, identified as a female Chinese national who had been staying at the resort.

When contacted by Minivan News today, a spokesperson for Bandos Island Resort and Spa said it would not be making any comments on the matter at present, asking to be contacted in 24 hours time.

“It is not possible for us to comment today, our manager is not on duty,” said a representative for the property’s marketing department said.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Boat collision

Details of the search operation were announced after a male tourist from Finland was killed last Sunday (December 2) when an express speedboat service to the island of Hulhumale’ collided with another vessel belonging to the Bandos Island Resort and Spa.  Nine local people were also injured in the collision.

The Honorary Consul of Finland in the Maldives confirmed this week that it was assisting the resort property in working to arrange repatriation of the tourist, while investigations by police and transport authorities continue into the matter.

Following the collision on Sunday, a spokesperson for the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) said it had temporarily suspended its express speedboat service between Hulhumale’ and Male’ while it reviewed guest safety procedures.

“We believe we need to do some work on safety,” a company spokesperson told Minivan News. “We will be working with transport authorities, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the police on the matter and will resume the services after that.” Dhoni services will continue to run between Male’ and Hulhumale’ as normal, the MTCC added yesterday.

Danger awareness

Over the last 12 months, tourist deaths – usually while snorkelling – have been disproportionately higher among Chinese tourists, which now account for a majority of Maldives tourist arrivals even compared to traditional European markets.

Mohamed Ibrahim ‘Sim’ from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) previously told Minivan News that Chinese guests in particular needed to be made more aware of the dangers of snorkelling in the Maldives, “because it is a totally different environment than what they are used to.”

Back in October, police said that a 26 year-old male from China staying at Alif Dhaal Atoll Vakafaru resort was suspected to have died in a snorkelling accident at the property.

Meanwhile in January, two Chinese nationals on vacation at separate island resorts in the Maldives were found dead within 48 hours of each other.  Authorities said they suspected both incidents were the result of snorkelling accidents.


UK transplant surgeon dies while snorkeling at Meedhupparu

A top UK transplant surgeon has died while snorkeling on holiday in the Maldives.

Reports in the UK press claimed the 61 year-old consultant transplant and vascular surgeon, Ali Bakran, was on holiday with his wife Diane and daughter Miriam when he was pulled from the water and pronounced dead.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the incident occurred at the Adaaran Meedhupparu Resort in Raa Atoll.

“The cause [of death] was most likely drowning but it is very difficult to confirm without a postmortem, and that is not something we can do here [in the Maldives],” Shiyam said.

Meedhupparu Resort’s management would not confirm that the incident had occurred, and said the resort would not release any information to the press until the matter had been investigated.

Bakran’s son Adam told the Liverpool Daily that the cause of his father’s death on August 27 was still unknown, and that the family was waiting for the results of a post-mortem to be conducted in the UK.

“We have no idea if he died before he drowned. My mum saw him snorkeling and then half an hour to 45 minutes later he was pulled from the water,” he said.

Bakran worked at the Royal Liverpool Hospital for over 20 years, and set up the charity Aequitas to help make careers in medicine more accessible to underprivileged students.

Fellow charity trustee Professor John Aston, also the UK’s North West Regional Director of Public Health, told the newspaper that Bakran “was a man who had quite humble origins overseas and was very committed to improving access to medical school among people from poor backgrounds. He wanted other kids to have the same chances as he had, and his commitment to social justice and equality and opportunity is something to be recognised.”

Registrar at the Royal Liverpool Hospital Ajay Sharma said the staff were very upset.

“At times, people in the hospital would be taken aback or a bit stunned because he would do whatever was necessary for his patients – he would bulldoze his way for patients,” Sharma said.

“When he was travelling, Mr Bakran would call me from America or Australia to check on his patients.

Balkran is the latest tourist to die in a series of snorkeling-related incidents this year.

In mid-August a Chinese couple holidaying in the Maldives disappeared from their resort after they went for a swim.

The 38 year old woman and 40 year old man were holidaying with their 13 year-old daughter on the Hilton Irufushi Beach and Spa Resort in Noonu Atoll.

On March 14, police received a report that a Chinese national, Rui Dai, died while snorkelling at Holiday Inn Kandooma Resort, South Malé Atoll.

Earlier that same month another Chinese man died while snorkeling at Chaaya Lagoon Hakurahura Island Resort, less than a day after a German tourist died in a snorkeling accident at Embudu Village Island Resort.

Mohamed Ibrahim ‘Sim’ from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) has previously stated that resorts need to ensure that inexperienced or elderly snorkelers are aware of the dangers, such as the country’s strong currents.

MATI is currently working with the Ministry of Tourism to make tourists more aware of the risks to snorkelers.

“Chinese guests in particular need to be made more aware because the Maldives is a totally different environment than what they are used to,” Sim said.

“The UK tour operators already pass on this kind of information, but China is a new market and the operators need to be made aware also,” he added. “Few resorts have reception staff or guides who speak Mandarin.”