The Environment Protection Agency is assessing damage caused to the Fuvahmulah reef after a Vietnamese cargo ship ran aground on the southern island’s lagoon.
An EPA official told local media that a team arrived in Fuvahmulah today to assess the damage with the help of a Singaporean crew that completed salvaging the vessel last Thursday.
The MV NGOC Sun was carrying construction material for a water and sanitation project when it ran aground on Fuvahmulah’s southwestern reef on August 14.
About 5,000 tonnes of construction aggregate and river sand were dumped onto the reef with the approval of the EPA after previous efforts to salvage the 102-meter-long carrier failed.
The aggregate has yet to be removed from the reef.
The EPA said it gave permission to dump the cargo after all other options were exhausted. A deadline of two weeks for the ship’s owners to salvage it was also extended due to bad weather.
The incident has prompted widespread concern in Fuvahmulah over potentially irreversible damage to the fragile coral reef ecosystem.
According to the Fuvahmulah island council, the ship ran aground on top of a popular dive spot and the diving community fears the coral might not recover.
A week ago, residents of Fuvahmulah also reported traces of oil on the beach, which was later confirmed as an oil leak from the cargo ship.
According to the Singaporean salvage company, the oil leak has since been fixed and the ship is in good shape.
The Transport Authority meanwhile said today that the ship will not be allowed to leave the Maldives until its parent company pays compensation for damages.
The EPA is likely to impose a hefty fine after its assessment.
Abdul Rasheed Nafiz, chairman of the Transport Authority, told newspaper Mihaaru that the fine could be lowered through negotiations.
The ship could leave after the company arranges a payment schedule and provides a bank guarantee, he said.
An audit report released last year revealed that the government was owed at least MVR45 million (US$2.9 million) in unpaid fines for environmental damages.
The owner of a Thai fishing vessel that ran aground on the reef near Shangri-La Villigili Island Resort in November 2011 failed to pay an MVR42.1 million (US$2.7 million) fine, the report said.
The EPA said at the time that the reef in the southernmost atoll was “destroyed” and unlikely to recover in the near future.