By Zaheena Rasheed and Hassan Mohamed
A Malta company has confirmed plans to set up a private armory in a northern island in the Maldives, supervised by the Maldivian army, to cater to the demand for maritime security for ships transiting the Indian Ocean.
Malta’s Marshall Consultants Group, a maritime and aviation logistics firm, has set up a company called Safety at Sea Logistics Ltd. (SASL) in the Maldives to provide a range of services, including private security and support for oil and gas research and freight industries, according to documents obtained by The Maldives Independent and information published on the company’s website.
A spokesman for Marshall Consultants said SASL plans to begin services “as soon as we get permission. We haven’t got all the permissions yet. We are waiting for clearance.”
The spokesman, who The Maldives Independent had reached through Marshall Consultants’ general phone number, only identified himself as James. When asked for his last name, he declined to comment and cut the line.
SASL plans to build a land and floating armory in Haa Alif Atoll Uligan, an island that straddles the eight-degree channel, along the Gulf of Oman and Red Sea shipping lanes, according to documents.
The armory is to be supervised by the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF). The premises are to be secured by 20-30 armed guards.
At present, ships transiting through the Maldives register with the MNDF at Malé, and deposit weapons with the state armory. MNDF and customs personnel are also required to keep stringent records.
Only parties licensed by the government are allowed to own weapons in the Maldives. The Maldives Independent understands that only security forces are allowed to carry weapons at the moment.
A maritime security expert, who wished to remain anonymous, said SASL’s documents indicate private security companies, who are currently required to work with the MNDF, will now have to work through SASL.
“This means SASL will have a monopoly, and it appears there will be very little state oversight of the whole operation. It could be a national security threat,” the expert said.
Uligan is also a better location for transiting ships than Malé, he added.
The source said MNDF had declined requests for an armory at Uligan before, saying it does not have the resources to deploy soldiers in the remote north.
An MNDF spokesperson declined to comment. The Uligan island council was not responding to calls.
SASL is registered with the economic ministry and permitted to sell imported goods, according to publicly available records. Its address is at Magenta at Maafaannu ward, but there is no telephone number.
James told The Maldives Independent that SASL’s local contacts “are confidential.”
Private maritime security is a lucrative trade.
Somali pirates operating in the Arabian Sea make it a high-risk area for the shipping industry. Up to 40 percent of vessels transiting through the area use armed guards, according to analysts.
Armed guards who board the vessels along the eastern coast of Africa mostly disembark at Galle in Colombo. Ships pay a few thousand dollars for transit fees, the industry is worth US$4million per month in Galle, the expert who spoke to The Maldives Independent said.
SASL documents say it plans to charge US$3750 for embarkation and disembarkation fees.
On October 9, the Sri Lankan navy seized a floating armory in its waters. The ship, owned by a company called Avant Garde, initially said there were no weapons on board, but the navy found a cache of 810 firearms, Sri Lankan media report.