The Maldivian Coast Guard, the naval division of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), has a respectable repertoire of rescue operations conducted at sea, often in collaboration with local fishermen. However, their latest operation to save four fishermen aboard a Sri Lankan fishing vessel that had gone missing for 20 days was a first for the Coast Guard, though it was smaller in scale in terms of distance and number of people rescued – it was the first rescue operation successfully completed on formal request from another nation.
The government of Sri Lanka, one of the closest allies of the Maldives, has described the rescue of their four missing fishermen as an invaluable service.
It first began when the crew of a local boat hailing from Thaa atoll Omadhoo island spotted a small fishing vessel of Sri Lanka drifting beyond the archipelago’s northernmost island of Thuraakunu in Haa Alif atoll on January 4. They had immediately alerted the Coast Guard before approaching the vessel and saving two fishermen who had been on board.
Upon receiving the news, the government of Sri Lanka informed the Maldives that another fishing boat of the country was missing, suspected to be in Maldivian territory. The president and prime minister of Sri Lanka requested assistance in finding and rescuing the lost crew, in response to which the Maldives launched its latest operation.
Headed by President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, Minister of Defence Adam Shareef Umar and the Chief of Defence Force Ahmed Shiyam, the mission deployed two ships of the Maldivian Coast Guard: its flagship MCGS Huravee and a fast interceptor craft, which is one of the newest commissions of the Coast Guard and its fastest vessel.
Based on the information received regarding the fishing boat which had left the Sri Lankan coast last December 24, the Coast Guard began its operation at the eastern perimeters of the archipelago earlier this month. However, when the vessel was nowhere to be found even after a vast area of sea had been scoured, the Coast Guard had assessed the direction of wind and ocean currents, and turned west.
The fast interceptor craft had stuck close to Maldivian borders while the larger Huravee ship explored the waters beyond. The duo had approached and checked every vessel spotted on the horizon.
The lost fishing boat of Sri Lanka finally blipped onto Huravee’s radar last Wednesday, eight days after the rescue mission was launched. The vessel and its crew of four were found adrift 153 miles off the coast of Haa Dhaal atoll Makunudhoo island, the westernmost point of the Maldives.
One of the fishermen on board was in poor health at the time of rescue.
“We first fed them small amounts of biscuits and fruits. After their hunger was sated and conditions started improving, we began to tow their vessel back,” said Captain Mohamed Jamshad as he recounted the mission to reporters on board Huravee.
The Coast Guard had first docked at Haa Dhaal atoll Kulhudhuffushi island with the four fishermen before returning to capital Male on Friday night. The rescued men were welcomed by Sri Lanka’s Deputy Minister of Sports, H.M.M. Harees, and the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the Maldives, Asoka Thoradeniya.
Ambassador Thoradeniya praised the Maldives’ rescue of the two Sri Lankan fishing vessels as an example of humanitarian aid to the region and a message to the world. He added that it has also strengthened the friendship between the two South Asian neighbours.
Speaking to reporters, the commander of the Coast Guard, Colonel Mohamed Ibrahim declared that the close relations between the Maldives and Sri Lanka had set this rescue operation apart from MNDF’s other naval missions. He said that the Sri Lankan government’s faith and confidence in Maldivians and the Maldivian military had truly been a boost to complete their operation successfully.
“We have some international commitments. We proved to the world that despite how small our country is and how vast the ocean we protect is, we are capable of facing these challenges and responsibilities to aid another nation.”
The colonel also acknowledged and praised the vital roles often played by local fishermen which were instrumental to their missions’ success.
“This was a great humanitarian service by the Maldivian military and fishermen.”
MCGS Huravee had also managed to save the small fishing vessel this time, which marks another success to the mission. As Colonel Mohamed Ibrahim stated, the Coast Guard’s responsibilities prioritise saving the lives of people lost at sea, after which comes saving their goods and vessels. In most cases, people lost at sea are found in poor health, leaving no time to tow their boats which is time consuming.
“Usually, we’ve been unable to save the vessels. If we’re to spend more time there [to tow the vessels] so far out at sea, we face the danger of running out of fuel and drifting ourselves,” explained the colonel.
“However, there have been times when we were able to drive the vessels back to shore with spare [fuel] we have.”
The government of the Maldives has also extoled the efforts of the military and local fishermen in this rescue operation. Defence Minister Adam Shareef met with the officers of MCGS Huravee to express his gratitude.
He declared that the military and local fishermen have brought honour upon the whole nation, and a good name which will facilitate stronger diplomatic ties between the Maldives and the world.