The environmental regulator has proposed a record fine of MVR633million (US$45million) on a Vietnamese shipping company for causing damage to a reef in the Maldives.
MV NGOC Son, a carrier vessel belonging to Northern Shipping Joint Stock Company, was carrying construction material for a water and sanitation project on the southern island of Fuvahmulah when it ran aground on the island’s south western reef on August 13.
The island council said that the ship had run aground at a popular diving spot and has caused irreversible damage.
The transport authority said the vessel’s Maldivian agent, Centurion Transport Solutions, has been given a 30-day period to contest the fine. A final figure will be determined through negotiations.
“The amount we have proposed is based on EPA’a estimation for maximum damage to the reef,” said Abdul Rasheed Nafiz, chairman of transport authority.
According to the Environmental Protection and Preservation Act, the maximum fine that can be levied for environmental damages is MVR100million. The law, however, allows for higher fines in instances of extraordinary damage to the environment.
On September 29, after guarantees from MV NGOC Son’s insurer Dubai National Insurance, the 102-metre long ship was allowed to leave the Maldives. A day later, as it was being towed to a port in Sri Lanka for repairs, it sank outside the Maldives’ territorial waters.
Earlier that month, after efforts to salvage the ship yielded no results, nearly 5,000 tonnes of construction aggregate and river sand was dumped onto the Fuvahmulah reef with the EPA’s approval.
The aggregate is yet to be removed from the reef.
The EPA had said that the permission to dump the cargo was given after all other options were exhausted.
Residents of Fuvahmulah have meanwhile reported traces of oil on the beach. It was later confirmed as an oil leak from the cargo ship. A Singaporean company brought in to salvage the ship said it has fixed the leak.
An audit report released last year revealed that there is an outstanding amount of MVR45 million (US$2.9 million) in unpaid fines for environmental damages.
A similar instance took place with a Thai fishing vessel in November 2011 on the reef near Shangri-La Villigili Island Resort. The owner of the vessel that ran aground has not yet paid a MVR42.1 million (US$2.7 million) fine that was imposed on it.
At the time, the EPA said that the reef in the southernmost atoll had been “destroyed” and was unlikely to recover in the near future.