The construction of a bridge between Malé and Hulhulé poses no threat to the city’s surf point at Varunulaa Raalhugandu, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz said today, assuring surfers that they would be able to surf there once the project is completed in 2018.
More than a dozen surfers were arrested in March when they protested against the construction of the China-Maldives Friendship bridge, claiming it would destroy waves there.
Muizz, however, told MPs the Chinese company that had carried out the feasibility study for the bridge had studied wave patterns in the area and “found that there will be no damage to the area, and when the bridge construction is completed, surfers will have the opportunity to surf if they so desire.”
The Raalhugandu is the only area in Malé with direct access to the ocean and is popular with surfers, families and joggers alike. But it has been blocked off since January for bridge construction.
The China-Maldives friendship bridge will connect the capital to the airport Hulhulé and is a key election pledge of President Abdulla Yameen.
The controversial US$210million project was handed last year to the Chinese CCCC Second Harbor Engineering Company, a firm blacklisted by the World Bank in 2009 over fraudulent practices.
When an opposition MP raised questions over environmental damage and noted that a part of the seabed had already been reclaimed, Muizz said there would no “major environmental damage” and said that the project was proceeding according to environmental impact assessments.
“There is no plan to permanently reclaim any part of the Varunulaa Raalhugandu for this project,” he said.
He went on to reiterate that the government had “no information” over fraud by CCCC, and said the company was selected by the Chinese government.
The bridge is being financed by Chinese concessional loans and grant aid.
“This is the cheapest price considering the geological and geographical features and engineering work. Having studied in the field and considering this from a professional angle, I would say it is not possible to build this at a cheaper rate,” he said.
The previous Maldivian Democratic Party led-government had set the price of the bridge at US$100million. Muizz said the amount was only enough to build the bridge’s pillars.
One ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP questioned the minister on whether “it really is possible that humans could set up such massive pillars from underwater because in the past it was djinns who did this.”
A second asked if the bridge would be the end of the MDP, while another asked whether MDP members would be allowed to use the bridge and what sort of security features the bridge had for “people suffering from yellow fever who may decide to jump off the bridge.”
Muizz assured surfers that the government would provide surfers free transport to other surf points near the capital such as Thamburudhoo Island, located an hour away from the capital.
The government has meanwhile pledged to protect a historical wreck in the bridge’s path. The Victory wreck is a popular dive site for tourists.