Delegates discuss maritime security

President Mohamed Nasheed has met with the Indian and Sri Lankan delegates in reference to the Trilateral Discussion in maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.

Delegates met separately with the President.

The discussions addressed regional maritime security concerns and possible solutions. The President highlighted the need for a regional strategy to address maritime security threats, such as piracy and drug trafficking

In June, international specialists informed Minivan News that following two attacks that month off of India’s southern coast, the Maldives’ waters were notably at risk.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) however has maintained that the Maldives is not under direct threat from Somalian pirates.


Islamic Foundation donates food aid to Somalia

Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) has donated vital food aid to over 80,000 victims of famine in the drought-stricken Somalia.

In a press statement released today, the religious NGO claimed that the food aid which included rice, flour, sugar, dates and cooking oil was handed over to 84,040 Somalis. Most recipients were women, children and the elderly.

According to IFM, food items worth Rf365, 203 (US$23,683) were equally distributed among 10,050 households belonging to the four worst hit areas: Bay, Bakool, Lower Shabelle and Banadir.

During the last quarter of 2011, an IFM official went to Somalia and dispersed the aid with the help of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), the statement noted.

The UN has officially declared six parts of Somalia to be suffering from famine amid the worst drought in east Africa for 60 years.

“The Somalia crisis is everybody’s responsibility and Somalis need support now. We cannot afford to wait or we will let down the Somali people,” said Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.

According to Bowden, more than half of Somalia’s 10 million people who are in dire need of help “will die without assistance”, while tens of thousands, including children, have already died of starvation.

The drought in East Africa has put an estimated 11 million people at risk. Suffering decades of relentless conflict, Somalia is the worst-hit country in the region.

Somalia’s south are experience the worst cases of famine, particularly the regions of Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Juba, Bay, Bakool, Benadir, Gedo and Hiraan, where the UN says an estimated 310,000 now suffer from acute malnutrition.

Meanwhile the UN has appealed for $1.5 billion for 2012, warning that the humanitarian crisis gripping millions of Somalis will persist for the coming months.


Somalians join queue as governments negotiate repatriation agreement

Another three Somalis discovered in Maldivian waters last night have joined the queue of Somali “castaways” awaiting repatriation in Dhoonidhoo Detention Center.

The 17-year-old boy, his 20-year-old brother and their uncle, age 40, were rescued near Gaaf Alifu Atoll by a local fishing boat, while onboard a drifting dinghy devoid of food and water.

According to Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), the castaways were in good health and had identified themselves as fishermen who got lost in the high seas after their engine failed.

MNDF said that they have now been handed over to the police for further investigation, adding that there are now 40 Somali castaways under police custody.

In the past two years, several Somali nationals have arrived in the Maldives in dinghies lost at sea.

Many were found in frail health conditions due to dehydration and malnourishment, and have had to undergo long treatments before being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Center, where they are now awaiting repatriation.

However, authorities explained that the repatriation process has been delayed by the problematic task of identifying the castaways.

No castaways carried any identification documents when they were found and “it has been a difficult task to confirm their identities,” according to police.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Irushaadha Abdu Sattar meanwhile confirmed that the ministry has recently verified through India’s Somali Embassy that the 37 castaways under police custody are Somali citizens.

She added that the ministry has received the travel documents and is “doing everything we can to send them back” as it is also a “financial burden” for the state to keep them under custody.

However, she explained that repatriation also requires the government of Somalia and Maldives to sign an agreement, which is currently under review.

“We have drafted the agreement. Now we are taking the necessary legal advice”, Irushaadha said, adding that the internal politics of Somalia is also hindering the repatriation process.

“As you know there is no central government in Somalia and some areas are autonomous. We have identified people from different areas. So should we sign the agreement with the all the ruling body in different areas? We can’t just go and leave them there”, she said.

Therefore, she added that the foreign ministry has been collaborating with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as they have more experience in the region.

“We are also trying to get an airplane for their transfer as it would not be safe to use the commercial airlines”, she said.

Meanwhile, with an increase in attacks in the Indian Ocean uncertainty remains as to the threat of piracy in Maldivian territory.

Tim Hart, a security analyst specialising in piracy in the southern African region for Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants (MUSC), in June told Minivan News that the two attacks reported that month off India’s southern coast raised wider security issues for the Maldives that have previously affected other nearby archipelago nations like the Seychelles.

However, MNDF has steadily countered that the country’s territorial waters have not come under direct attack from piracy originating in Somalia.

MNDF Spokeperson Abdul Raheem earlier told Minivan News that despite the trend of small Somalian vessels drifting into Maldivian waters – often with engineering problems – no reported attacks or activities linked to piracy were believed to have occurred in the country.

Raheem conceded that the potential for piracy remained a “major problem” in ensuring the security of the archipelago, which depends on tourism for as much as 70 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Raheem said that despite the serious concerns raised over potential piracy attacks in the Maldives, MNDF would pursue existing initiatives to protect its waters in collaboration with foreign naval forces including India, Turkey and the US, which have all taken part in patrols across the country.


Uncertainty remains over scale of Maldives piracy threat

With two separate attacks this month by Somalian pirates within a 30 nautical miles of Trivandrum, India, one maritime expert has warned that the Maldives’ growing use as crossroads for shipping routes make its own waters and businesses an increasingly attractive target in the future.

Tim Hart, a security analyst specialising in piracy from around the Horn of Africa for Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants (MUSC), told Minivan News that the two attacks reported this month off India’s southern coast raised wider security issues for the Maldives that have previously affected other nearby archipelago nations like the Seychelles.

While the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) this week said that the country’s territorial waters had not come under direct attack from piracy originating from Somalia, a spokesman said it shared the UN’s concerns over possible threats in the Indian Ocean.

Tourism angle

Increasing numbers of refugees from Somalia are flooding into northern destinations such as Kenya and Yemen, and with limited opportunities for those remaining, Hart said piracy was at believed to be the country’s second largest source of revenue.

In this lucrative market place for piracy, the UN has expressed concerns that the Indian Ocean is becoming in key battleground in trying to stem maritime attacks as suspects move increasingly further from Somali shores.

Hart said that as cargo fleets moved closer to the Maldives to try and ensure safer shipping routes, pirates were likely to follow in the search of viable targets.

Aside from the potential impact to the country’s own shipping enterprises, the maritime expert added that tourism had also been affected by piracy in other Indian Ocean nations.

“The Maldives is a large group of islands that can make monitoring difficult like in the Seychelles,” he said. “The [Seychelles] back in 2009 had a pirate issue that seriously affected its tourism. This has also been seen around the coast of Kenya in areas like Mombasa, where cruise ships were coming under attack in some cases.”

According to Hart, although cruise ship attacks are relatively isolated occurrences, the UK parliament has recently raised issues over an incident in Kenya that directly targeted tourists on board a vessel – an event that significantly affected cruise interest in the region.

“With the Maldives’ territories made up largely of ocean, (the country is 99 per cent water) the concern is that pirates might become influenced to make similar attacks there,” he added.

Targeting isolated resorts would be outside the traditional modus operandi of Somali pirates, Hart said, explaining that they only attacked targets other than merchant vessels out of opportunity.

“It really depends on how desperate a particular group of pirates becomes, generally larger merchant vessels offer the largest incentives for ransom,” he said. “To set foot onto an island, highjack and kidnap tourists and then try to get back to Somalia using their vessels would be very difficult.”

Despite the challenges posed by such an attack, Hart said that it had not been unheard of for pirates to mount land-based assaults in areas like the Niger Delta.

“Pirates are known to be very adaptive in terms of their methods and targets,” he said. “Wherever someone has tried to prevent them from operating, they have changed their target areas and tactics.”

However, Maldivian tourism officials and insiders have identified piracy as a potential security concern for the resort industry.

Adapting to piracy challenges

Hart claimed that the Maldives could take some lessons from the Seychelles in terms of further tightening maritime security against potential acts of piracy, he added that adopting a fix-all approach to the problem was impractical.

“With regards to piracy, it is difficult to set out a one-stop shop in terms of reducing risks, though I would suggest looking at how the Seychelles has operated in 2009 and 2010. Because of recent monsoon weather [in the Indian Ocean region], defining attack areas and establishing operational islands is very difficult,” he claimed. “However, anything to support additional maritime surveillance to protect islands and [local] waters would be encouraged.”

In terms of a national strategy for piracy prevention, MNDF Major Abdul Raheem said earlier this week that the Maldives is already collaborating with international naval forces – under wider UN military programmes – to patrol and monitor its territorial waters from pirate threats.

Raheem said that despite the serious concerns raised over potential piracy attacks in the Maldives, the MNDF would continue with existing initiatives to try and protect its waters in collaboration with naval forces from other nations like India, Turkey and the US. These nations have taken part in patrols across the country in the last few years.

“Piracy is seen as a major problem in the Maldives and we are very concerned about possible attacks occurring in our waters,” he said at the time. “However, we have not recognised piracy threats flaring up [around the Maldives]. With help from other nations, particularly India, we are continuing patrols.”

Raheem stressed that some Somali vessels had drifted into the country’s waters – often with engine troubles – though it was not clear if they were potential pirate threats or refugees trying to escape the country. Hart claimed that the dilemma over confirming legitimate pirate suspects was a major difficulty in policing international waters against attacks.

“The difference between a pirate and a refugee is often a crew that have thrown their weapons overboard. You have to catch pirates in the act, otherwise it can be impossible to try and stop them.”

From his experiences of studying emerging pirate threats off the Horn of Africa, Hart said it was increasingly common – even in the Indian Ocean – for Somali vessels to wish up on local coasts with no traces of weapons on them, then claiming that they are fishermen lost at sea.

“In certain cases, as opposed to dumping weapons at the threat of being spotted by naval vessels, some pirates will use reconnaissance and GPS systems and have weapons stored securely nearby in order to prepare for possible attacks on vulnerable targets.”

Hart said the situation was further complicated by the tens of thousands of Somalian refugees trying to escape the country that is wrought with political and social instability.

Just this week, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reported significant increases in the number of refugees from the country, with 20,000 nationals estimated to have attempted the arduous journey to escape to a Kenyan refugee camp in the last fortnight alone.

According to the report, the Dadaab refugee camp built initially for 90,000 people is now home to 360,000 displaced residents. The AFP report suggested that 1.46 million people are thought to have been displaced in Somalia.

Hart said that the domestic difficulties within Somalia, along with its geographic location, had made piracy a lucrative revenue source amidst the country’s many socio-political uncertainties.

“Piracy is a symptom of the problems being seen on the land. A lot of people have been trying to escape the civil war in the country’s south and have been trying to move north to areas like Yemen and Kenya,” he said. “Pirates have also used the very strategic [maritime] location that the Horn of Africa offers and exploited it.”

Amidst the difficulties of trying to find domestic solutions within Somalia as a means of confronting piracy, the UN Security Council has continued to discuss the formation of international courts and prisons to try and bring convicted pirates to justice.

However, Hart said that the effectiveness of these prisons as a potential deterrent to Somali nationals turning to piracy was uncertain.

“At present in Somalia, piracy is the country’s second largest industry. There are already huge risks, but you go out to sea and potentially have huge gains to make,” he claimed. “One possible deterrent would be being arrested and being held in prison. However, even these prisons are likely to be a better environment than life for many in places like Mogadishu – the Somali capital.”


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.

Read more


Somali piracy spreading to Asian waters, says US military official

A high ranking US Military official has claimed that piracy originating from Somalia is expanding into Asia, potentially leading to “problems” for a nation like the Maldives, according to news reports.

Miadhu reported that Admiral Robert Willard, who has recently toured the Maldives in his role as commander of the 300,000 strong Pacific Command, claimed President Mohamed Nasheed had expressed concerns that pirates whether abandoned or lost during, had been landing in the Maldives.

Several dinghies containing Somali nationals were stranded in the Maldives last year. Defence personnel discovered a bullet casing in one of the later dinghies.

A recent Minivan News investigation found that although there was no evidence that national interests in the Maldives had been threatened so far by piracy, coastal security authorities and experts believed the country could potentially become a target for pirate vessels increasingly forced away from African waters by the naval presence in the Gulf of Aden.


Piracy and the Maldives: special report

The Maldives territorial waters are regarded worldwide as a beautiful and popular setting for desert island holidays, but though the country is about 1,800 miles from the volatile coastlines of Somalia, the island nation is increasingly concerned about becoming the target of potential pirate attacks.

Maritime protection experts and European diplomats linked to coastal security around Somalia have told Minivan News that the Maldives has the potential to become a target for pirate vessels, forced away from African waters as a result of political upheaval and maritime security crackdowns.

Although there is no evidence from Maldivian security officials that national interests have been threatened so far, fears have grown over maritime security and possible acts of piracy in Maldivian waters.

In light of these security concerns, the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has said it is working alongside the Indian Navy as part of an ongoing collaboration to patrol the country’s territorial waters in attempts to prevent “terrorist acts” such as piracy that it has claimed are a “central concern” to the nation’s maritime security.

MNDF Major Abdul Raheem said he was concerned by the threat of possible attacks on “cargo ships within Maldivian waters by Somali terrorists”.

Several incidents of Somali nationals arriving in the Maldives in dinghies becoming lost at sea were reported during the 2010.

Two days (November 28) after the taking of the Malaysian vessel Albedo, a dinghy containing seven Somali nationals was brought ashore after it was discovered in Gnaviyani Atoll. The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) discovered a bullet shell during a search of the vessel.

On November 30, a second dinghy containing three Somali nationals was discovered by a Maldivian fishing near Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

The captain of the fishing boat, Mohamed Hussain, told Minivan News that one of the men had a stab wound in his neck and was seriously injured.

Such incidents have led to allegations that piracy originating in Africa may have reached the Indian Ocean – suspicions that are yet to be proven beyond circumstantial evidence.

Raheem confirmed that the MNDF has yet to uncover any terrorist acts having been conducted by Somali nationals or any other groups linked to piracy in its territorial waters, but added that the authorities remained “on alert”.

As part of joint operations with the coastguard and Indian Navy, Raheem told Minivan News that special patrols are being conducted in the Maldives territorial waters frequently in an attempt to try and preempt acts of piracy or terrorism in a country that is 99 percent sea. “We have not set a date when we will stop these operations, they are still continuing,” he said.

A European diplomat familiar with the EU’s anti-piracy policy around Somalia said that some attacks by Somali pirates had occurred within 300 miles of the Indian coast and that there was a trend for some of these groups to move further away from Africa and deeper into the Indian Ocean.

“We believe that this trend is due to the fact that the pirates are following the vessels – as merchant ships increase their distance from Somalia in order to feel ‘safer’, the pirates follow them resulting in attacks much farther east than ever before,” she said.

As merchant ships have increased their distance from Somalia in search of “safer” transport routes, European defence experts believe that pirates operating from the country have followed in pursuit.

“The pirates will follow the prey,” she explained. “If they can find vessels in or around the Maldives, they will probably attempt to pirate them.”

On a strategic level, the diplomat added that there was “no reason why attacks would not take place in the vicinity of the Maldives”.

Taking the Seychelles as an example – the country is closer to Somalia than the Maldives – she suggested that any pirates contemplating attacking the Maldives would follow a similar pattern.

However, the Seychelles coastguard in collaboration with the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EUNAVFOR), which under the Operation Atalanta military programme has aimed to try and limit the growth and scale of Somali piracy, has recorded some successes.

“Coordinated action can disrupt attacks but there is simply too much money and reward involved to deter attacks significantly,” she said.

From an EU perspective, restricting pirates’ “freedom of manoeuvre” is a major preventative measure, helping to ensure persecution and imprisonment for any individuals caught performing acts of piracy. The adoption of so-called Best Management Practices (BMP) by individual ships could also be adopted by Maldivian vessels wherever possible to further reduce possible attacks through security measures and evasive manoeuvres, according to European officials.

More information on BMP practices can be found here.

Instability on land

The European diplomat said that the current piracy problems emanating from Somalia were the result of instability on land, an area she said EU mandated training missions were being focused to try and better train Somali forces for protection.

Tim Hart, a security analyst specialising in piracy originating from the Horn of Africa for the Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants (MUSC), agreed that despite the implications piracy has on the oceans, its origins and solutions remained a landlocked issue.

“Piracy stems from problems on land and will not be stopped until this is tackled,” he said. “Traditional reasons [for piracy] usually extend from strong maritime communities and lack of law and order on land.”

Hart said that from his experience, Somalia was a nation with a “perfect storm of factors” such as a strong proximity to shipping lanes and proliferation of weapons that had contributed to an “extremely high level” of piracy stemming from the country.

With popular shipping routes moving increasingly eastwards from Somalia due to concerns over the dangers of sailing around the Horn of Africa, Hart claimed historical evidence has shown pirates follow these routes, which may in turn have led to the current concerns being expressed in the Maldives.

“Somali pirates have shown over the last few years that they are prepared to move thousands of miles from the coast to target rich environments,” he said. “The Maldives has a popular route for vessels transiting from the Gulf of Aden to the Far East and also for vessels transiting to the Far East from the Middle East.”

As a business, Hart said piracy has originally stemmed from local Somali groups taxing foreign fisherman illegally working within Somali waters and then hijacking their vessels for ransom.

Early successes led the pirates to become more ambitious in terms of the size of vessels they were targeting, Hart added, with the result that by 2008, the numbers of Somali people turning to piracy for survival or profit “exploded”.

This growth in numbers also saw a correspondingly large area being affected by the country’s piracy.

“In 2008 [piracy] was mostly limited within the Gulf of Aden area,” he said. “It moved further into the Indian Ocean in 2009 and in 2010 it has expanded even further east so that in the last 7-14 days, the majority of the attacks have been around 69-70 E – only a few hundred miles from the Maldives.”

As any expanding global business, Hart explained that piracy has become “a huge industry” for Somalia due to being “extremely lucrative.”

“The increase in the number of Somalis involved – represented by an increased amount of groups that operate as well as vessels held at any one time – shows that [piracy] still holds a great attraction for the Somalis,” he explained. “And there is still not a sufficient deterrent to prevent pirate groups from operating.”

Responding to ongoing patrols and the special operations being conducted by Maldives defence forces and the Indian Navy, Hart said that by taking the example of similar military commitments in the Gulf of Aden, such preventative measures had been found to effective in deterring the likelihood of piracy.

Nonetheless, with an apparent expansion into the Indian Ocean and other maritime areas, anti-piracy resources were being stretched to their limits.

“A comparison that is often made [to preventing piracy] is that it is like trying to ‘police the US/Canada border with a scooter’. The area [involved] is larger than the size of mainland Europe. However, when combined with effective onboard measures, pirate effectiveness has decreased in the last 12 months.”

Rob from the rich

While the extraordinary profitability of piracy has led to a surge in the practice – largely driven by the willingness of shipping companies (and their insurers) to pay the ransoms and get on with business, the root cause of the problem is perhaps more socioeconomic than mercenary.

Somali pirates, when captured and questioned, claim that the stealing of fish by giant trawlers and the illegal dumping of toxic waste in their territorial waters has left them little choice but to turn to piracy.

Their claims are not without some merit: in 2003-2004, the UK’s Department for International Development estimates that Somalia – one of the poorest countries in the world – lost  US$100 million dollars in revenue to the illegal fishing of tuna and shrimp by foreign-owned trawlers.

As for the pirates’ claims that toxic waste was being dumped in the country’s EEZ following the collapse of the government in 1991, evidence emerged in 2004 following the tsunami when the rusting containers washed up on the coast of northern Somalia.

This side of the piracy debate – that the rise in Somali piracy was fermented by a decade of abuse by the developed world – was reported by Project Censored as the third most under-reported story of 2010.

“There is uranium radioactive (nuclear) waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes—you name it,” United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) spokesman Nick Nuttall told Al Jazeera.

As a result, “hundreds of [Somalis] have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal bleeding, skin infections and other ailments.”

“What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste that is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean,” he said.

The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, revealed that private companies were paying corrupt government ministers and even militia leaders to dump the waste, but that even this token reciprication had disappeared with the demise of the country’s government.

Following these revelations, the European Green Party released copies of contracts signed by two European companies, Achair Partners, and an Italian waste broker, Progresso, with Somali warlords detailing the exchange of 10 million tonnes of toxic waste for US$80 million.

Nuttall notes that disposal of such waste in Europe costs US$1000 a tonne. Somali warlords, in contrast, were willing to accept as little as US$2.50 a tonne.

As a result – and perhaps unsurprisingly – piracy enjoys the widespread support of the Somali population – even across fractious tribal and ethic boundries. Project Censored points to a survey conducted by independent Somalia news site WardherNews, which fond  that 70 percent of the population “strongly support the piracy as a form of national defense of the country’s territorial waters.”

In an article for the UK’s Independent newspaper, journalist Johann Hari claims “You are being lied to about pirates”.

“Do we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn’t act on those crimes – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about ‘evil.’

“If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause – our crimes – before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia’s criminals.”

It could be that Maldivians – contending with rising sea levels potentially exacerbated by the industrialisation of the developed world – have more in common with the Somalis washing up on their islands than they may think.

It could be that Somali fishermen are battling their own set of man-made environmental problems – successfully and profitably – with the only means left to them.

“It is said that acts of piracy are actually acts of desperation, and, as in the case of Somalia, what is one man’s pirate is another man’s Coast Guard,” writes Mohamed Abshir Waldo, of Somalia Wardheer News.


Opposition groups back national anti-piracy stance

Political opposition the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) have pledged to cooperate with the government in pursuing anti-piracy campaigns within the country’s waters, according to reports.

During a joint press conference held yesterday afternoon, Miadhu reported that both parties expressed concern about expanding activity from Somali pirates that they claim is getting closer to Maldivian shores.

Gasim Ibrahim, leader of the JP, claimed that piracy within Maldivian territorial waters represents a major threat to the nation and its lucrative tourism and fisheries sectors.

“There are many challenges to the tourism industry even now. Though it might be that the number of tourists has increased, the tourists come here with special discounts,” he said at the conference.  “Therefore, if the tourism industry is further undermined then the economy will be destabilised,”


Bullet shell discovered in dinghy of rescued Somalis

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has said that officers who searched the vessel of seven Somali castaways yesterday bought ashore in Gnaviyani Atoll have discovered a bullet shell inside the boat.

Several incidents of Somali nationals being washed up or brought to the Maldives after being found lost at sea have been reported during the last twelve months.  This has led to allegations that piracy originating from Africa may have reached the Indian Ocean – suspicions that are yet to have been proven beyond circumstantial evidence.

The latest vessel thought to have gone adrift from the country was found floating near the reefs of Fuvamulah in Gnaviyani Atoll late yesterday afternoon, leading to a search of the boat by MNDF officials.

”The bullet shell was found inside waste materials in their dinghy,” said MNDF Major Abdul Raheem. ”Only one was found.”

Abdul Raheem said the seven men aboard the vessel had now been handed over to police for investigation.

Island Chief Muneer Hussein said the vessel was discovered yesterday around 5:30 pm.

”They were flying white flags and calling for help,” he said.

Muneer said people on the beach signaled them to come ashore.

”They ran their vessel’s engine and came ashore,” Muneer said. ”With the help of some boys near the beach the boat was beached.”

He said the castaways spoke a little English and said they were from Somalia.

”They said they had been drifting in the sea for two months, but appeared to be in good condition and were fairly strong,” he said.

Some opposition politicians have moved to criticise the government over the real identities and nature of castaways being found in the country.  Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Waheed has said that there is a big concern lately that a large number of Somalis are being found drifting into Maldivian waters.

Waheed claimed that the government has failed to provide  sufficient information for civilians on the true nature and number of castaways being found in the country, alleging a possible cover up.

”The people [Somalis] we saw yesterday do not have the appearance that they have been drifting in the sea for a long time, neither did their vessel,” he said. ”The government have not been disclosing information to the citizens and media about the recent similar incidents.”

Six badly malnourished Somali nationals were discovered adrift near the island of Makunudhoo in June after spending three months at sea – one was almost buried alive because his condition was so bad that police and islanders believed he was dead. According to an island official who spoke to Minivan News at the time, he was only saved from being buried alive because of an island superstition that the area “might become haunted if a rotten dead body was buried.”

Seven were rescued on December 1, 2009 and a further five people on December 5, while seven were rescued on May 12,  2010.

While local reports have speculated that some of the rescued Somali nationals may have been involved in piracy before becoming lost and finding their way to the Maldives, the evidence so far has been circumstantial.