The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has halted aerial search and rescue operations to locate four individuals who went missing at sea earlier this month.
Search and rescue operations for the four men lost at sea have been downgraded, not terminated, MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News today (May 20).
He explained that although aerial operations have ceased, the reduced search efforts are being continued. An Indian Navy aircraft was previously assisting the MNDF Kurangi Helicopter with aerial search and rescue operations, but has recently departed the Maldives.
“This is the procedure – when a search is prolonged, we change our method and try to find other ways and means to locate the missing persons and vessels,” said Raheem.
“We are coordinating with vessels and islands in the area as well as other agencies. We are trying to search new areas, on land and at sea,” he added.
Raheem explained that inhabited islands and boats traveling near the areas which the men went missing have been informed about the search, while uninhabited islands are also being checked.
“Still we haven’t given up hope, we won’t stand down until we find some information about the missing men,” stated Raheem.
Local rescue efforts led by boats from the missing persons’ respective islands are also being continued, according to local media.
Mohamed Sammoon, a 21 year-old surfer from Kolamaafushi Island in Gaafu Alif Atoll (the north-eastern half of Huvadhoo Atoll), was reported missing around 4:30pm on May 4. He allegedly entered the ocean with a surfboard and was swept away by the current.
Kolamaafushi Island Council Vice President Abdulla Atheef told local media that “hope is still alive he will be located. Although it has been 14 days that Shamoon has been missing at sea, we will stop the search only after considering what the relevant authorities inform us.”
Two fisherman also went missing on May 4 aboard the fishing vessel “Azum”. They were identified as 39 year-old Hassan Rasheed from Maamigili Island in Alif Dhaalu Atoll and 32 year-old Abdulla Waheed from Maavashu Island in Laamu Atoll. The two crewmen and the 40 foot light-green fishing boat disappeared after departing from Mulak Island in Meemu Atoll en route to Maavah Island in Laamu Atoll.
Additionally, 30 year-old Mohamed Falah, from Fares-Maathoda Island in Gaafu Dhaal Atoll (the south-western half of Huvadhoo Atoll), has not been seen since he departed via dinghy for the small uninhabited island of Uhehuttaa to collect sand on May 9.
The MNDF Coast Guard can be contacted through the toll free number 191, 339-8898, 339-5981, or via fax 339-1665, with any information regarding the missing persons.
Take travel precautions
Ongoing extreme weather conditions have hampered search efforts to find the men lost at sea, explained Raheem.
“Even on the first day [of the search] we were unable to operate the MNDF helicopter due to really bad weather. The wind has been so heavy and the sea very rough, it has been very, very difficult to conduct operations,” he said.
“The MNDF has been advising people to take the necessary precautions. We urge people to be cautious and take care that all the necessary equipment is onboard before traveling. In particular, people should not travel without life-jackets, communications equipment, and fuel,” he continued.
“It is very important to have a working communications radio onboard. Most of the time incidents occur because [the means of] communications are not enough,” he emphasised.
“Some people depend on mobile phones, however service at sea is limited. The Transportation Ministry also mandates that vessels have radio equipment be onboard,” said Raheem.
Three weeks of communities being battered by extreme weather has prompted Maldivian government authorities to provide emergency services and relief funds, as well as issue multiple travel and weather advisories.