Boskalis dredging vessel ORANJE
is not welcome in Maldives
Ongoing concerns about Gulhifalhu ecocide and widespread environmental destruction
Gulhifalhu Ecocide : Fast Facts
- Boskalis Westminster dredging vessel ORANJE arrived in the Maldives on 21 February 2023 to dredge the Male’ area to reclaim Gulhifalhu lagoon.
- Boskalis ORANJE is NOT welcome in the Maldives. We are deeply concerned about the arrival of this destructive machine that plans to decimate our marine environment. We expect that its activities will cause unaccounted, unquantified and unknown loss and damage ecologically, environmentally, socially and economically, exposing Maldives further into both the climate crisis and the debt crisis.
- Maldives is currently in a state of “climate emergency” due to global climate heating and its negative impacts. Maldives enacted a Climate Emergency Act in May 2021, to address various issues including “ensuring the sustainability of natural resources”.
- The global climate crisis is indisputable, and the UN Secretary General declared “code red for humanity” in 2021, following the IPCCs scientific findings. Global climate change poses an existential threat to the Maldives, a fact frequently cited by Maldivian politicians at international forums.
- The Gulhifalhu reclamation project has been subject to civil litigation at the Civil Court of the Maldives since September 2021. The Maldives government has been observed to cancel court hearings at the last minute, notably over the past two months, citing scheduling and capacity limitations. Climate governance remains weak and ineffective in the country.
- Global forecasts show that 2023 would be an El Niño year which poses grave danger to coral reef ecosystems, on which the Maldives is built and its future resilience depends.
- Dredging irreversibly destroys our coral reef foundations. For all these reasons and more, we call on the authorities TO STOP ALL ACTIVITIES by Boskalis ORANJE in the Maldives.
Gulhifalhu reclamation : a spiraling ecocide project
The Gulhifalhu Port Development reclamation project is one of the most destructive, debt intensive and ecologically damaging reclamation projects planned by the government of Maldives. The project will reclaim 2.1 square kilometers of Gulhifalhu lagoon with the loss of all marine life in that area, and is “expected to directly bury about 53,000 m2 of substrate that potentially support coral growth within the inner lagoon of Gulhifalhu”.[i] The project will destroy Hans Haas Place, a nationally marine protected area since 1995. The project EIA states that “to compensate for the expected impacts on Hans Haas Place during construction and from future operations on the island” another marine protected area could be assessed and declared in North Male’ Atoll at a cost of USD 50,000.[ii] The expectation that the already massively destroyed North Male’ Atoll which has been subjected to over-exploitation, over-extraction and use, and over-tourism including the creation of artificial resorts, could offer a “new marine protected area” is astounding. The situation on the ground is that the Maldives government has resorted to offering the people of greater Male’ in North Male’ Atoll, a barren artificial island called Kudagiri, for their leisure picnics. The Gulhifalhu project threatens the last remaining natural beach in the greater Male’ area in Villingili, that is freely available and accessible to the people of greater Male’.
The Gulhifalhu reclamation project plans to dredge an area of 13.75 sq/km in the already environmentally decimated Male’ area.[iii] The project initially estimated to use 20 million cubic metres of sand. However, it has since increased its sand-use amount through an Addendum to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) published in November 2021. The project now plans to extract 24.5 million cubic metres of sand from the seabed to fill the more than 20 meter deep Gulhifalhu lagoon.[iv] It is evident from the project’s first EIA of April 2020 that building the port in Gulhifalhu would use 3 times more sand than would be required elsewhere. The EIA estimates that the reclamation would use “the equivalent or less than the combined volume in reclaimed areas of Hulhumalé Phase I, Phase II, Malé and Villigili Island.” In May 2020, the #SaveMaldives Campaign issued an open letter addressed to the Speaker of the Maldives People’s Majlis raising concerns about this and other destructive, unsustainable projects undertaken by the government. The Majlis has taken no meaningful action to address the serious issues of environmental loss and damage this ecocide project will cause.
Cost, public debt, irregularity and opacity – for whose benefit?
The project cost of the Gulhifalhu reclamation is unclear with various figures reported in the media. In 2019, the project was reported to have been contracted to Boskalis Westminster of Netherlands without a bid, for USD 53 million. In June 2020, the Ministry of National Planning, Housing & Infrastructure (MoNPHI) announced that the total cost of the reclamation project would be USD 120 million. In June 2022, the Maldives government announced that it had made a Euro 101 million loan agreement with 3 European banks, to undertake Gulhifalhu second phase reclamation.[v] In August 2022, media reported that the Euro loan was taken at 6% interest, imposing MVR 500 million (USD 32.5 million) in interest alone. In January 2023, Boskalis announced the company had been contracted the second phase of Gulhifalhu reclamation for Euro 120 million. The exact cost of the reclamation is therefore not known – whether in MVR, USD or Euro!
Notably, the minister for MoNPHI Mohamed Aslam informed the People’s Majlis at a Committee hearing in June 2020, that the results of the sand-search survey contracted to Boskalis was the company’s “intellectual property” and not available to the contracting ministry or to the Maldives parliament.[vi] It is confounding that the results of a sand search survey in the Maldives, commissioned by the Maldives state using public finances, is not available to the Maldives state !
Most importantly, there has been no financial assessment of the ecosystem services and natural resource loss and damage impacts of the Gulhifalhu reclamation project. Despite its excessive and increasing use of sand, the project has put no value on the sand it is expected to use.
In this context, we raise the following questions.
- How much public debt is being spent to reclaim Gulhifalhu lagoon?
- What exactly is Boskalis Westminster and associated corporate collaborators being paid to destroy Gulhifalhu lagoon?
- Who is benefitting from Gulhifalhu ecocide?
We are reminded that the government of Maldives has a recent and significant history of corruption that has been well documented, albeit inadequately dealt with by the current government, despite the significance of the issues.
The Gulhifalhu reclamation project was contracted to Boskalis in October 2019, reportedly without a bid. Shortly afterwards, local media reported that the Maldives Anti-Corruption Commission had initiated a probe to investigate the matter. The project EIA was completed after contracting the project. According to the project EIA of April 2020 : “At the time of this EIA, the Government has already taken a decision to proceed with the project and to take mitigation measures to minimize the resulting impacts.”
The Gulhifalhu reclamation EIA was fast-tracked without meaningful public consultation in April 2020. The public was given 5 days to comment on the 677 page EIA using online Google forms, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The project area, the greater Male’ area has a population of about 250,000 although the number of public responses to the project EIA is just 07 (seven).[vii] The majority of this insignificant number of respondents expressed reservations about the public value of the project. The EIA shows that concerns raised about the project by consulted stakeholders have been largely ignored or dismissed. The Diver’s Association of Maldives raised concerns that the reclamation project will negatively impact about 30 dive sites in the Male’ area. These concerns were completely ignored by the government, as were several other concerns raised by a variety of stakeholders. These include fisherfolk, divers and small businesses, NGOs, resort operators and various government institutions, including the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI). The project EIA clearly states that the project would not consider “compensation in any form”, indicating that no loss and damage to any party would be compensated by the project.[viii]
The #MitigationMirage and the #GreatGreenwash
The first phase of the Gulhifalhu reclamation by Boskalis began in May 2020, during Covid-19 lockdown. The dredging activity caused a massive sediment plume that threatened Villimale reef. This led to the residents of Villimale to seek parliamentary intervention due to the absence of adequate mitigation measures and due diligence by the contractor, Boskalis. The question arose why silt-screens were not used to mitigate sedimentation. The minister for MoNPHI Mohamed Aslam, who was summoned to the parliament’s Environment and Climate Change Committee in June 2020 shared his professional opinion that he “did not believe silt-screens would work in this area”.[ix] Prior to his ministerial appointment, Mr Aslam was a director of an EIA consultancy firm in the Maldives involved in the production of EIAs.
In June 2020, shortly after its arrival in the Maldives, Boskalis scrambled to arrange “coral relocation” from the Gulhifalhu lagoon, which the company took on under its alleged corporate social responsibility (CSR).[x] These actions raised a multitude of questions about the professional standards of the supposed “coral relocation” being done. In addition to the questions surrounding regulatory irregularities, the fact that a global corporation was offering CSR to the Maldivian state when implementing a multi-million dollar project funded by the Maldivian people is beyond comprehension. Partners to this corporate greenwash component of the Gulhifalhu ecocide project include luxury tourist resorts Four Seasons Kuda Huraa, Sheraton Full Moon and Sonevafushi Resort. Over the past two years, Gulhifalhu lagoon has been subject to multiple “campaigns” of coral removal, displacement and degradation. The Gulhifalhu project’s website boasts that this “biodiversity offset” initiative has resulted in the “relocation” of 34,500 coral colonies from Gulhifalhu reef. The practice of “coral relocation” is used to greenwash reef destruction activities, involving the removal and relocation of coral fragments. There are no known scientific studies of so-called “coral relocation” projects that have survived or succeeded to provide anything remotely like the ecosystem services and biodiversity provided by a living natural reef ecosystem.
The evident methods, standards and contractor motivations raises the question what mitigation measures can possibly be taken to address the significant loss and damage the project would cause, not just to Gulhifalhu but the entire region, especially the safety of Villimale and its reef. The fundamental fact is that given today’s pressing reality of global climate change impacts, the Gulhifalhu ecocide project will cause widespread, unquantified loss and damage, with unknowable consequences to the greater Male’ area. Moreover, given the paucity of efforts to obtain reliable national level data, the emerging available scientific evidence indicates that the scope and extent of damage by coastal modifications in the north Male’ area and the Maldives in general is substantial and potentially catastrophic. Yet, the government of Maldives fails to heed the available science nationally and the warnings based on the scientific evidence internationally.
Disregarding all these concerns and realities, Boskalis has once again returned to the Maldives to inflict the worst of the planned damage thus far to Gulhifalhu lagoon and its surrounding area.
- We call on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to immediately #StopGulhifalhuEcocide.
- We call on the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission to build judges knowledge and capacity to address environmental protection issues in the courts.
- We call on the Government and the People’s Majlis to step up to their Constitutional responsibilities and uphold the legal guarantees to protect our natural defences, livelihood assets, resources and biodiversity.
- We demand responsible decision-making to protect our natural reef defences and stop the willful and reckless ecosystem loss and damage, exposing the people of the greater Male’ area to climate change vulnerability and disaster due to Gulhifalhu ecocide.
- Lastly, we call on Boskalis Westminster to TO STOP ALL ACTIVITIES by Boskalis ORANJE in the Maldives and stop destroying our natural marine ecosystems, livelihood sources and heritage.
We condemn the destruction you are here to cause for your business profits, at the expense of the Maldivian people and their security.
– END –
[i] Environment Impact Assessment for the proposed Gulhifalhu Port Development Project Phase 1 : Dredging, Reclamation and Shore Protection, Ministry of National Planning and Infrastructure, Prepared by CDE Consulting, Maldives, April 2020 (Gulhifalhu EIA April 2020)
[ii] Gulhifalhu EIA April 2020, pg.275
[iii] Gulhifalhu EIA April 2020, pg.xxii
[iv] First Addendum to the Environmental Impact Assessment for the proposed Port Development Project at Gulhifalhu, North Male’ Atoll, Phase I – Dredging, Land Reclamation and Revetment Works, Ministry of National Planning and Infrastructure, Prepared by CDE Consulting, Maldives, November 2021
[v] The 3 banks are : ING Bank N.V. (Netherlands) ; ABN AMRO Bank N.V. (Netherlands) ; AKA Ausfuhrkredit-Gesellschaft Mbh (Germany)
[vi] Minutes of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, 24th session, 6 June 2020, The People’s Majlis, Maldives (Dhivehi).
[vii] Gulhifalhu EIA April 2020, pg.225
[viii] Gulhifalhu EIA April 2020, pg.197
[ix] Minutes of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, 24th session, 6 June 2020, The People’s Majlis, Maldives (Dhivehi).
[x] Gulhifalhu Coral Relocation – Intermediate update, Boskalis Westminster Contracting Ltd, Document Number 462-10042-BWC- SHE-QS-011, 9 June 2020