Australian surfers followed, photographed, questioned for hours by Maldives police

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has confirmed that it held three Australian surfers in Male’ for five hours of questioning yesterday (August 31), before releasing them without charge.

The surf tourists, who arrived in the Maldives on August 30, were wearing ‘Save Thamburudhoo’ t-shirts, in support of a locally-led awareness campaign against the privatisation of a local surf break .

“The three Australian men were not in police custody, they were being questioned in regard to an ongoing investigation,” Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today (September 1).

“They were released without charge right after being questioned,” he added.

Haneef was unable to state why the Australian surfers who had been in the Maldives for around 24 hours would be involved in a prior investigation, or why they were being followed and photographed, explaining that the investigation was ongoing.

Asked why questioning the Australians took five hours, Haneef said he would need to clarify the details of the investigative process with the MPS Criminal Investigation Department.

Multiple sources in the surfing community with knowledge of the incident told Minivan News the Australians were questioned because government authorities thought they were involved in a political protest against the current government, due to their ‘Save Thamburudhoo’ t-shirts.

Maldivian law prohibits foreign nationals from participating in political protests.

“The Australians have been followed and photographed [by police] since they got to Male’,” a source speaking on condition of anonymity told Minivan News.

“The police kept the Australians in custody for seven hours and checked their camera memory cards,” said another person familiar with the matter. “But they were not involved in any political protests.”

The ‘Save Thamburudhoo’ campaign aims to raise awareness and end surf break exclusivity in the Maldives, particularly the practice of resort islands shooing visiting local and foreign surfers off ‘their’ breaks. The campaign has been led by local surfers in partnership with the Maldives Surfing Association (MSA) and the Liveaboard Association of the Maldives (LAM), and has been widely covered in international surf media.

Thamburudhoo has become the campaign’s focal point, as it is the only uninhabited, untouched island near Male’ with a publicly accessible surf break . However, the island is currently owned by a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) co-operative company that is seeking bids to develop a resort on the island, which would limit access to the Thamburudhoo’s left and right-hand breaks, known locally as ‘sultans’ and ‘honkeys’.

The proposal was first submitted in 2011 under the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government, but appeared to have stalled until it was revived under the new government in early 2012.

Under the July 2011 proposal, submitted by senior Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) figures and Telos Investment, Telos would receive a 50 year lease on the military training island to develop a “boutique surf resort”, in exchange for US$5 million to develop an MNDF training facility on nearby Girifishi.

According to the proposal, the 3.6 hectare island “does not have the normal beauty found in Maldivian resorts”, as it does not have natural lagoon or sandy beaches. Furthermore, the strong currents limit recreational swimming, and therefore “the only development for Thanburudhoo which is sensible is that of a boutique surf resort.”

The surf resort would “open its doors to Maldivian surfers for a special surfing session twice per month,” the 2011 proposal notes.

“Unlike other resorts which do not allow local Maldivians to surf, Thanburudhoo would make available two surfing sessions per month, most likely Friday mornings or Saturday afternoons. The Maldivian surfers coming to Thanburudhoo for the special local surfing session must be in good standing with the Maldivian Surf Association and must abide by all the rules and regulations of Thanburudhoo surfing activities,” the proposal stated.

A ‘Save Thamburudhoo Expression Rally’ organised by MSA and LAM was planned to be held yesterday (August 31) but has since been delayed.

The rally would have involved over 24 vessels cruising between Male’s surf point ‘raalhugandu’ and Thamburudhoo’s surf breaks, as well as a petition to end surf break exclusivity.