A daily ferry service free of charge from Malé to a nearby island has been arranged for surfers who lost access to the capital’s main surf point when construction began on the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge last year.
A memorandum of understanding was signed Tuesday between the tourism ministry, the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company, and the Maldives Bodyboarding Association to launch the ferry to the island of Thamburudhoo in ten days.
Thamburudhoo, a 30-minute boat ride from the capital, is famous for two unique surf spots, Sultans and Honkeys.
The ferry service is part of MTCC’s corporate social responsibility programme. On weekdays, an 81-seater boat will take off from Malé at 1:30 pm and return from Thamburudhoo at 6 pm. The ferry will leave at 7 am on weekends.
Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer reportedly told the press at the MoU signing ceremony that President Abdulla Yameen took the initiative to make the arrangement through the CSR component of state-owned companies.
The Raalhugandu surf point in Malé’s southeastern corner will be reopened to surfers once the bridge is complete in 2018, Zameer assured.
Eleven surfers were briefly detained in early 2016 for protesting the loss of access to the surf break. Raalhugandu was the only area in Malé with direct access to the ocean and was popular with surfers, families and joggers alike. It was fenced off in January 2016 and the housing ministry assured surfers that the bridge construction would only cause minimal damage to the waves.
Over 90 percent of Maldives’ surf athletes practised at Raalhugandu and several local and international surfing competitions were held in the area.
At Tuesday’s signing ceremony, Abdul Areef ‘Fuku’, president of the Maldives Bodyboarding Association, thanked the government and the MTCC on behalf of local surfers.
MTCC CEO Ibrahim Ziyath said the ferry service agreement will be renewed in six months.
Ahmed Fauzan Abbas ‘Karo,’ president of the Maldives Surfers Association, told the Maldives Independent that the details of the arrangement were unclear to most surfers.
“Personally I’m not happy. Because this should have been set before Raalhugandu was closed off and it has been more than a year since that,” he said.
“Also, because surfing is a sport, it should go under the youth ministry under some policy. But now it’s the tourism ministry and the MTCC.”
Shaziya Saeed, the surfing association’s vice president, said she was also unaware of the ferry service until the MoU was signed.
“Always heard about this ferry thing and I will never be happy about that because I personally won’t be able to use the ferry to go surfing every day,” she said.
“I need Malé Raalhugandu. I’m happy for whoever can use it. But I have doubts about this service.”
Thumburudhoo was leased by the previous government to a Singaporean company for the development of a boutique surf resort, prompting surfers to launch a campaign against ‘surf exclusivity’. The MSA warned then that it would halve the number of breaks open to local surfers and particularly impact safari operators due to limited access.
The current administration cancelled the contract in August 2015 and pledged to keep the island open to the public as a “surf heritage site.”