by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, January 25, 2019
The Maldives has issued a warning to holiday resorts to keep a closer eye on their guests after a spate of drownings.
Five tourists have died in a single week across the Indian Ocean archipelago famed for its overwater villas, dive sites and turquoise waters, including a couple on their honeymoon, with strong currents from a north-eastern monsoon blamed. Just 31 people drowned in the Maldives during the whole of 2017, according to government data.
Tourism officials have told all resorts to closer monitor their guests and have announced a full review of all accommodation on the islands to ensure they meet operating standards.
The most recent drowning came last weekend when a 40-year-old Russian tourist died during a diving trip. Other deaths included an 84-year-old man from the Czech Republic, a South Korean tourist, 66, and a couple from the Philippines, a 29-year-old man and 30-year-old woman.
On Monday, the islands’ police issued a statement appealing for caution from visitors when swimming, snorkelling or taking part in watersports. It said efforts were under way to improve safety measures at resorts.
“We have decided to inspect all tourist facilities in the Maldives within the next six to eight months,” tourism minister Ali Waheed told reporters. “Regular monitoring must be done to ensure that regulations are followed.”
One recommendation under consideration is the creation of safe swimming areas around the 26 atolls that make up the nation as well as the deployment of tourist police on each island.
The Foreign Office (FCO) warns that seas around the Maldives “can have strong tidal currents” and that a number of foreign nationals drown each year, adding that visitors should always take local advice before entering the water. Just over 100,000 Britons visited the islands in 2017.
One of the Maldives’ top luxury resorts was hit by a devastating fire earlier in January, which destroyed seven overwater villas and one of its restaurants. Gili Lankanfushi – an exclusive private island resort in the North Malé Atoll, which is rated number one in the country on TripAdvisor, is now closed indefinitely. Ali Waheed said the fire was an “unfortunate, tragic accident”.
Waheed said there would be “revolutionary changes” in 2019, a year in which the Maldives expects visitor numbers to increase significantly.
In 2010, 791,000 tourists visited the islands, a number which grew to 1.38m in 2017.
The Maldives has enjoyed a steady rise in arrivals - many staying at luxury accommodation that can cost upwards of thousands of pounds a night - despite political unrest last year that led to the declaration of a state of emergency.
The instability led to scores of cancellations as foreign governments warned against travel to the islands. The FCO says: “A state of emergency was in place in Maldives in February and March 2018. There could still be further political protests in the capital Malé and a number of other towns. Recent protests have resulted in pepper spray being used by the security forces. You should exercise caution and avoid any protests or rallies.
“There are no reports that outlying islands, resorts or Malé International Airport have been affected.”