Morning Star crew free to return to the Maldives after seven month wait

The crew of a Maldivian ship detained in the Indian port city of Kochi have been told they can finally return to the Maldives after a seven month wait.

The owner of the vessel, Managing Director of Mallinks Pvt Ltd Ibrahim Rasheed, had told crew members back in January that they must attempt to sell the ship or risk being stranded in India indefinitely.

MV Morning Star had been detained by Indian authorities in July 2012 after the vessel it had been towing from the Maldives sank in Indian waters.

Transport Authority Chairman Abdul Rasheed Nafiz said on Monday (March 18) that the ship had now been sold by the Indian courts and the crew will be able to return to the Maldives.

“The crew can return back any time now, but at present they are waiting to receive the money they are owed from the sale of MV Morning Star,” Nafiz said.

The Transport Authority Chairman told Minivan News earlier this year that the crew had gone without pay for over five months prior to January, and had been relying on a union in India to provide them with food.

“The same union is taking care of the crew at the moment whilst they wait for their pay,” Nafiz confirmed today.

Following the sinking of the vessel back in July, a ruling by the Indian Judiciary stated that the ship, along with the crew, would not be allowed to sail out of the port until the sunken vessel had been salvaged.

The ship’s crew had been advised by Rasheed in January to sell the vessel as he could not personally afford to pay for their return.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Rasheed confirmed that the Indian courts had reached a verdict to sell the vessel for US$165,000.

“The captain and crew of the ship can deduct their salaries from the sale of the ship. I spoke to the captain yesterday (March 17) and he told me he will pay the crew,” Rasheed said.

“The unions who helped support the crew will also be able to take their share of owed money,” he added.

Rasheed previously claimed that MV Morning Star would have been able to sail out of the port had the sunken vessel – MV Sea Angel – been salvaged.

According to Rasheed, both ships had been insured by Allied insurance and it had been the insurance company’s responsibility to salvage the sunken ship.

“We had fully insured both ships. The insurance company gave us a wage policy and in the policy they have written, ‘within 40 days we have to sail the vessels’, which we did.

“The insurance company needs to take responsibility, but they are saying no,” Rasheed said back in January.

MV Morning Star had been towing MV Sea Angel to a port in India for it to be scrapped, however just eight miles from Kochi, the 26 metre vessel began to sink.

Speaking today, Rasheed said that he had now filed a case against Allied Insurance, and is currently waiting for the next hearing to be scheduled in court.


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.


Stranded cargo vessel causes MVR 61 million worth of damage to reef

The cargo vessel stranded off the coast of Male’ last week (January 7) caused MVR 61 million (US$3.9 million) worth of damage to the reef, local media has reported.

An assessment conducted by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) showed that the 210 metre long and 30 metre wide boat had caused damage to the reef, Chairman of Transport Authority Abdul Rasheed Nafiz told local media.

According to Nafiz, discussions between the two parties are to be held during the next three days before a fine can be imposed.

The Liberian 27,000-ton boat named Auguste Schulte became stranded in shallow water when it attempted to make a turn, local media reported.

It was eventually refloated after three hours using two tug boats and through the assistance of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

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.


Stranded container ship in Male’ refloated: MNDF

A container ship was yesterday (Janaury 7) stranded in waters on the eastern side of Male’ for three hours before tug boats were able to successfully refloat the vessel, local media has reported.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News last night that the ship, called Auguste Schulte, sailed under a Liberian flag.

The MNDF told local media that while the ship itself did not suffer much damage from the incident, investigations would be carried out on the reef where the boat had been stuck.

Should any damage be found on the reef, a fine of MVR 85,000 (US$ 5508) per square metre of damaged reef will be imposed, an official from the Transport Authority told the Sun Online news agency.


Maldivian crewmen stranded in Greece and Malaysia

Eight Maldivians on a cargo ship in Malaysia and four in Greece are stranded, reports Haveeru, after claiming that the shipping company ceased paying them when it was unable to deliver goods to Libya because of the political unrest.

One of the Maldivians stranded in Greece told Haveeru that he had not been paid since December, and was unable to send money home to his family.

“The company keeps on telling us that we will be sent back [to the Maldives] next month. But that next month had never come,” said Moosa Didi, who is on the ‘Al Dhoha 1’ cargo ship, a Naftotrade Shipping vessel unable to transport cement to Libya.

He complained that while the company was providing food, some of it contained pork which the Muslim crew members were unable to eat.

Haveeru also spoke to Maldivians stranded on the vessel ‘Ocean Carrier’, currently in the Malaysian port of Labuan, who claimed that they were running out of food and water and had not been paid for two months.


Tourists still stranded in the Maldives due to volcanic ash

London’s Heathrow Airport reopened flights on Tuesday night after almost a week of flight cancellations due to the volcanic ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which erupted last Wednesday and spread a thick cloud of ash over Europe.

Major airports around Europe are now reopening their airspace for more flights to resume, allowing stranded tourists and goods to reach their destinations, although recent reports suggest this is happening somewhat haphazardly.

Anecdotal reports suggest some hotels and resorts are reaching capacity with stranded tourists, particularly those near the airport on Hulhumale.

Controller of Immigration, Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, said tourists who have been stranded in the Maldives will not have any issues with immigration.

“We are willing to extend their visas,” he said. “There is no problem with visas expiring. The problem is when they over-stay their booking at the hotels and resorts.”

Deputy Director at the Ministry of Tourism Hassan Zameer said no resorts have reported any cases of stranded tourists to the ministry, but they have informed resorts not to take passengers to the airport unless their flight has been confirmed.

Zameer said members of government, the tourism industry and resorts met earlier this week to discuss the situation, and said some resorts had offered to give their guests discounts “so long as they are not losing money.”

He said he did not know whether any resorts were implementing these discounted rates.

Zameer noted that “if this situation is prolonged it will be very costly to [the resorts],” and they are trying to help guests how they can.

Deputy Minister of Tourism Thoyyib Waheed said the ministry does not have any statistics on how many tourists have been stranded in the Maldives or how many were expected to arrive but were stranded in Europe.

But he added the airport has set up a hotline (call 332 2211) to help tourists with information on flights.

Staff at the One & Only Reethi Rah resort said most of their guests have extended their stay for at least four nights, but could not give any more details about whether they were giving special rates or any other assistance to these guests.

Many resorts around Malé that are reported to be over-booked with stranded tourists did not wish to comment on how they are handling the situation.

Stranded in paradise

Minivan News spoke to one British couple with their two young kids who had planned to return to the UK on Monday, when Sri Lankan Airlines informed them their flight had been cancelled and they would have to stay in the Maldives until flights resumed.

Because the airline is not party to the EU legislation, it does not have to provide financial assistance, such as accommodation and food vouchers, to its stranded customers.


The couple said they knew some people who were flying with British Airways and noted that BA customers were getting compensation from the airline.

They stressed the point that insurance would not cover any of their expenses, noting “nothing is covered.”

Because they were staying at a resort that cost US$450 per person per day plus food, they have found new, more affordable, accommodation in Malé until they can be rebooked on a flight home.

“We’re just waiting for Sri Lankan Airlines to call us,” they said. “There’s a three-flight back-log.”

The couple added they were meant to be back at work in the UK early this week and their kids should be back at school.

“We’re losing our salary on top of the extra expenses,” they said.

They noted neither the airline, the resort or the government had assisted them in any way.

An Italian couple had a different story to tell. They were stuck in Shanghai and were told their best option was to take a flight to Kuala Lumpur and then to Cairo. But by when they reached KL, they discovered their flight to Egypt had been cancelled.

“So we came to the Maldives to relax for a few days,” they said, adding that they had no swimsuits or beach clothes, “just scarves and jackets.”

They had been told of a flight back to Italy on April 29, but were still awaiting confirmation from their airline and are hoping to get back on Sunday, if possible.

“For now, we will go relax at a nice resort with beautiful beaches,” they said.

Two young Britons said they had not yet been affected by the volcano since their flight was originally scheduled for tomorrow, and are hoping they will be able to keep their seats.

Many import/export businesses, such as tropical fish exporters, have also faced difficulty since they cannot send their products to Europe. Cargo has been stopped in hubs like Dubai and stored by the airlines, while some if it has been returned to the Maldives.

With airlines gradually reopening their flights again, goods and products are now queued, waiting to reach their destination.