Search for four men lost at sea “downgraded”

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.


Search for missing surfer underway in Huvadhoo Atoll

A search and rescue operation conducted by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Coast Guard is underway to find a Maldivian surfer lost at sea in the south of the country.

Mohamed Sammoon, a 21 year-old from Kolamaafushi Island in Gaafu Alif Atoll (the north-eastern half of Huvadhoo Atoll), was reported missing around 4:30pm Saturday (May 4), MNDF Media Officer Abdulla Ali told local media.

“The Coast Guard are now working at the scene after one from the three [young men] who went into the sea was reported missing,” Abdulla said.

The Island Council was informed Sammoon was missing at 3:20pm and promptly informed the MNDF and Police Services, Kolamaafushi Island Council President Ahmed Jameel told local media.

Sammoon was with two other young men and was reported as having a surfboard with him when he entered the sea.

“The three of them together went to the sea. The kid who has gone missing, he was swept away by the current after he went a bit far out into the sea,” said Jameel.


MNDF training island of Thanburudhoo to be developed as resort

Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has confirmed plans to develop a tourist resort on the island of Thanburudhoo, currently being used by the military for training and recreational purposes.

The confirmation comes just a week following the registration of the MNDF Welfare Company, created in a bid to generate income to fund welfare services for the armed forces by investing in various businesses, including the tourism sector.

Speaking to Minivan News on Sunday, Lieutenant Abdullah Ali explained that the MNDF is not going to play any direct role in the development of the resort, and that the island would be leased to a third party.

He claimed that the concept of developing the training island as a tourist resort was approved by the former government in 2010, but that work had stalled “for various reasons”.

“However, we have started that process again, and the discussions are continuing,” Lieutenant Ali said.

He also added that the MNDF Welfare Company is “going to be involved” in the project.

“MNDF Welfare Company is going to do tourism, real estate and other potentially lucrative businesses in the future. Our aim is to help reduce state expenditure by self-generating revenue to fund welfare services of the defense force.” Ali observed.

Former Tourism Minister Dr. Mariyam Zulfa confirmed to Minivan News that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government endorsed the Thanburudhoo project back in 2010, but said the President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration had never decided to involve the Defense Ministry or MNDF’ in the project.

“MDP believes in a center right system where the government has little or no control over the economy and promote privatisation. Defense Ministry or MNDF – whichever name u call it – it is still the government. So we would of course never support them to be involved in the project.” Zulfa observed.

She added: “As you know during Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom several uninhabited islands were given to various ministries. So the only reason Defense Ministry’s name appeared in the documents was because the island was registered under the ministry.”

Dr. Zulfa stated that the proposal was initially submitted by individual named Dr Gunnar Lee-Miller, who proposed to develop Thanburudhoo as a surfing resort. The nearby waters host beautiful dive sites and a popular surf-break, which attract many local and foreign surfers.

“We though it was a good proposal and supported it at the time, but the lease transfer was not signed,” Former Tourism Minister contended. “However, I don’t have any details of what happened with the project, following the MDP’s ousting from power on February 7.”

Minivan News contacted Gunnar Lee-Miller seeking to verify whether he was still negotiating with the authorities to secure the island, however Lee-Miller said that it was “not a good time” and hung up the phone. Further attempts to seek comment were met with no response.

Lee-Miller is identified as the President of Telos Investment, a private investment holding firm based in Singapore. The firm is leading the Five Islands project, which involves the development of three integrated resorts over five islands and nine square kilometres of lagoon in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. The project was contracted to the company under former government’s Corporate Social Responsibility(CRS) scheme, in return for establishing high-end sporting facilities in the country.

A speaker profile for Lee-Miller on the website of the Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific (HICAP) states that the developer “was recently appointed Senior Advisor to the Maldives National Sports Council assisting in all national sport and sport tourism development projects.”

Surfer controversy

Several local surfers have meanwhile raised concerns on social networks, claiming that the Thamburudhoo project involved dredging and reclaiming  the surrounding area of the island reef, which would destroy the popular surfing spot.

Banzai Bongo, a well-known local surfer, wrote on Facebook: “This is going to affect the natural current flow of the surrounding waves such as Jailbreaks, Honkies, Sultans and Pasta. Moreover, it will destroy dive spots around this area. So the government’s best interest is to annihilate our natural resources which includes world class surf sites and dive sites.”

Bongo called for surfers to “save these waves like we all stood against the state and saved the Trestles. Save it for or children, save it for the future.”

The Maldivian Surfing Association (MSA) said it would be issuing an official statement.