The president of the Seychelles has made a plea for stronger protection of the “beating blue heart of our planet”, in a speech delivered from deep below the ocean’s surface.
Danny Faure’s call for action, billed as the first live speech from a submersible, came during a visit to an ambitious British-led science expedition exploring the Indian Ocean depths.
“Oceans cover over two-thirds of the world’s surface but remain, for the most part, uncharted. We have better maps of Mars than we do of the ocean floor,” Faure said. “This issue is bigger than all of us, and we cannot wait for the next generation to solve it. We are running out of excuses to not take action, and running out of time.”
The president was speaking from a manned submersible 120 metres (400ft) below the waves, on the seabed off the outer islands of the African nation.
Wearing a Seychelles T-shirt and shorts, Faure said after his speech that the experience was “so, so cool”. It had made him more determined than ever to speak out for marine protection, he said. “We just need to do what needs to be done. The scientists have spoken.”
The oceans’ role in regulating the climate and the threats they face are underestimated by many, even though, as Faure pointed out, they generate “half of the oxygen we breathe”. Scientific missions are crucial in taking stock of underwater ecosystems’ health.
Small island nations are among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Land erosion, dying coral reefs and the increased frequency of extreme weather events threaten their existence.
During the expedition, marine scientists from the University of Oxford have surveyed underwater life, mapped large areas of the sea floor and explored the depths with manned submersibles and underwater drones.
Little is known about the oceans below depths of 30 metres, the limit to which a normal scuba diver can go. Operating down to 500 metres, the scientists were the first to explore areas of great diversity where sunlight weakens and the deep ocean begins.
By the end of the mission, researchers expect to have conducted more than 300 deployments, collected about 1,400 samples and 16 terabytes of data and surveyed about 25,000 sq metres (269,100 sq ft) of seabed using high-resolution multi-beam sonar equipment.
The data will be used to help the Seychelles expand its policy of protecting almost a third of its national waters by 2020. The initiative is important for the country’s “blue economy”, an attempt to balance development needs with those of the environment.
“From this depth, I can see the incredible wildlife that needs our protection and the consequences of damaging this huge ecosystem that has existed for millennia,” Faure said in his speech. “Over the years we have created these problems. We can solve them.”
About 5% of the world’s oceans are protected. Countries have agreed to increase the area to 10% by 2020. But experts and environmental campaigners say between 30% and 50% of the oceans outside nations’ territorial waters should get protected status to ensure marine biodiversity. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/14/seychelles-president-danny-faure-underwater-plea-protect-oceans
CHURNING IN MALDIVES – POLITICALLY, STRATEGICALLY
By Malladi Rama Rao*
One-time adversaries, Gayoom and Nasheed are trying to slice away
the parliamentary majority of President Yameen in order to scuttle
his tie-ups with KSA and China. The first salvo on Mar 26 ended as
a skud. Undaunted the duo is gearing up for a second show down.
Their game: Keep the political pot boiling till the next Prez ballot,
says the author a long time Maldives observer
Maldives is witnessing political churning. This is bad news to China and Saudi
Arabia, who are on the lookout for a new outpost on the Maritime Silk Road.
Also to President Abdulla Yameen, who has been using the China card and the
ties with the Saudis as his instant noodles.
Topping the agenda of the challengers to Yameen rule is the resolve to “protect
ownership of the land, sea and natural resources”.
It is no more than hoisting of Danger Signal Nine (that storm force wind is
increasing significantly) by the opposition alliance led by two former
Presidents, Maumoon Gayoom and Muhammad Nasheed, and two political
heavy weights Gasim Ibrahim and Sheikh Imran Abdulla just when Saudis and
the Chinese are firming up plans for their base on the Faafu atoll, some 120km
south of Male. When ready, the base at the atoll of 19 low-lying islands would
complement the Djibouti outpost, the Chinese have set up at the mouth of Red
Sea as a part of their African outreach.
Technically, the Faafu atolls are a Saudi property; President Yameen has
allowed them to carve out a sparkling investment Eldorado on reclaimed lands
of these islands. It fits in well with the Saudi plans to reinvent the petro-dollar
that had brought boom times to the desert kingdom.
Riyadh has turned to Beijing to develop an airport and sea port at Laamu, south
of Faafu. Literally it is the Saudi bait to China for increased military and anti-
terrorism cooperation; China did not disappoint the House of Saud, and grabbed
the offer in order to strengthen its very own string of pearls (ports) in the Indian
There is more than what meets the eye in the Saudi- China deal. Faafu is not
very far from the Iranian coast, some three hour distance at the best.
On the one hand the deal helps to show case Beijing – Riyadh military
cooperation. On the other hand, it enables Riyadh to address its concern over an
inward looking America under President Trump, and present itself as a reliable
partner to China.
Still there is one more big plus. Riyadh will become the key link in Beijing’s
‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative to link Eurasia to the Middle Kingdom through
Chinese-funded infrastructure, James M Dorsey wrote in South China Morning
Post on Mar 12, 2017.
China is pushing anti-terrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia to a new level. It
has agreed to manufacture its CH-4 drones in the Kingdom- a first in the Middle
East. These drone have proved their worth in Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia and
China has set up drone manufacturing facilities in Myanmar, its backyard, and
Pakistan, its all-weather friend. So much so, this is a clear signal that Beijing is
elevating the Kingdom to the level of a very dear friend.
OPPOSITION TO DEAL
Now, with turbulence in Male, the Saudi-China axis is up against the
“Our alliance stands for repeal of legal amendments that allowed both Saudi
Arabian and Chinese companies to acquire Maldivian atolls”, Nasheed said in
an interview as a cloud of uncertainty engulfed Faafu deals.
Riyadh also has to blame itself for the growing opposition to the Faafu ventures.
As it is, the deal was very opaque. Saudis tried to silence the critics by greasing
their palms, local media reports say.
Why Riyadh stooped so low remains a Sudoku since its influence in Maldives is
very broad based and deep rooted. It dates back to the rein of Maumoon
Gayoom’s presidency (1978-2008), which made Maldives Sharia complainant
Yameen contributed to further the process. And employed Islam as “a tool of
identity politics, framing religious mobilisation as the solution to perceived
Western attempts to undermine Maldivian national sovereignty”. He
deliberately moved away from India and the United States and embraced
Beijing for Yuans and allowed Riyadh to bank roll Wahhabi Islam across the
atolls in the archipelago.
By September 2014, as Oliver Wright reported in the Independent, (UK), the
Islamic Republic of Maldives became the recruiting paradise for jihadists on
their way to Af-Pak and beyond. The situation made foreign intelligence
agencies to sit up and take notice of the links that have come up “between
Maldivians and violent extremists throughout the world”, according to a US
State Department’s 2014 report on terrorism.
From al Qaeda to ISIS all foreign jihadi networks have their foot print on
President Yameen turned to anti-terrorism laws to intimidate and suppress
critics across the board. And his targeting of political rivals did no less damage
to his regime. In fact, it provided the trigger for the formation of grand
opposition to the Saudi Faafu buy. These protests have forced Saudi King
Salman to cancel his scheduled visit to the Maldives early March.
ROYAL MIND CHANGED?
What changed the royal mind? Here is an interesting take from Maldives
Independent under the heading, “Saved by the bull?”
“The International Spokesperson for the President explained it was the H1N1
flu that kept the King away. As explanations go, it’s pretty lame, given the wide
availability of flu vaccines and the fact that King Salman is travelling with not
just medical staff but an entire hospital. No, what seems more plausible is that
it’s the Maldivian motor mouths that have put this King off his planned paradise
“First to open his mouth was the President himself who told the starry-eyed
people of Faafu Atoll Magoodhoo that ‘the Saudi government, or members of
the Saudi elite’ had fallen absolutely madly deeply in love with their atoll. They
were going to show their love by opening their wallets and giving Faafu the
kind of makeover that would make it unrecognisable as an atoll in an island
archipelago. The President’s bragging did not create the docile citizens he
hoped for. It set tongues wagging instead. Pretty soon everyone was talking
about the Saudis and Faafu – what does Yameen mean by investment? Is he
selling Faafu? How much is it being sold for? Is it legal? What will I get?
“Strategic decisions, that no doubt looked cerebral from the perspective of the
‘top brass’ that were making them, were arrived at to ‘emphasis the Islamic
angle’ – it’s okay to sell to the Saudis because they are 100 percent Muslim,
‘just like us’. …..
“Pretty soon the Saudi Embassy in Malé—run from an annex in the President’s
Office—broke the silence by putting out a statement denying that the Saudi
government had any interest or plans to buy Faafu or make an investment in the
Maldives. The statement created even more confusion—it denied any
involvement of the Saudi government, but not of the Saudi royal family, which
is what Yameen had been ‘hinting’ at so very subtly. More tongues wagged in
the Maldives”, Azra Naseem wrote in Maldives Independent (Mar 18, 2017).
GRAND ALLIANCE FORMED
The Grand Alliance was formed on March 25. Former Presidents, Maumoon
Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed, Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim
and Islamist Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla signed the
declaration to work together to restore democracy in the Maldives.
Their charter reads:
We have resolved to “protect ownership of the land, sea and natural
resources”, “find a resolution to the political discord afflicting the country”,
“safeguard civil and political rights abrogated from citizens”, and “ensure
elections held in the Maldives are free and fair in which candidates of political
parties choosing are allowed to contest.”
We will also work together to “secure freedom for all individuals who
have been arrested, under investigation, on trial, or convicted of politically
motivated charges”, “prevent corruption and embezzlement within the
government”, and “seek the restitution of transactions and properties unlawfully
seized from citizens by the government”.
Will they succeed? Crystal gazing is a hazardous occupation at the best of
times. These leaders want to check mate President Abdulla Yameen through
Parliament in what is no more than a parliamentary coup. They are confident
that they will be able to muster enough numbers in the 85-member Majlis, the
The confidence stems from the reality that Maumoon Gayoom still holds the
reins of the ruling from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). He
parted ways with his half-brother President last October. Their parting was
downright messy. One key issue which triggered the fall-out was President
Yameen’s amendment to the Tourism Act which sought to bypass the bidding
process in island lease for tourism.
Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim turned against the President as his vast
business empire spanning tourism to media was targeted and his accounts were
Islamist Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla’s crime that had earned
him the Yameen wrath was his party’s rally along with Nasheed’s Maldivian
Democratic Party (MDP) to protest against the jailing of dissidents. He was
slapped with charges under the draconian anti-terrorism laws. At present he is
cooling his heels under house arrest. From his ‘jail at home’, he has extended
his support to the four-party Grand Alliance.
The Alliance faced its first test on Monday, March 27. Majlis took up for
hearing their no trust motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed. It
pitted President Abdulla Yameen against the Grand Alliance in the 85-member
On the treasury benches were 48 MPs from PPM and six MPs from ruling
coalition partner, Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).
On the opposition side were Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – 21;
Jumhooree Party – 7, and Adhaalath Party –One.
With Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed unable to vote, Deputy Speaker
‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik presiding, and Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof in jail,
the motion needed just 42 votes to sail through.
The Opposition counted on at least four ruling PPM lawmakers to switch their
sides, as Maumoon Gayoom’s lawmaker son Faris Maumoon has openly sided
with the Alliance, and one MDA member, Hussain Areef, announced his
support to anti-Speaker trust vote.
FIRST TEST FAILED
Yet, President Yameen ensured that the GA grand plan collapsed amidst high
voltage political drama. As many as 13 MPs were evicted; other opposition
MPs walked out. Only treasury members voted, and the chair declared: the
Opposition motion was defeated.
Now the Opposition is gearing for a second show down with Yameen. And
hopes to emerge triumphant. This time the target is Deputy Speaker Moosa
Manik. They also intend to table again the no-confidence motion against
The success of these ballots depend on Gayoom-Nasheed combine’s ability to
encourage defections from the Yameen camp. Fence sitters in the ruling camp
will be looking for ‘readable’ signals from far and near.
One thing is clear as of now. Whether success comes the Opposition way or not,
the ballots have the potential of keeping President Yameen on the back-foot till
the presidential ballot in September 2018. Also his friendly investors.
Nasheed told The Hindu that he hoped India would back their cause by
pressuring the government of President Yameen to “stop arresting Opposition
SIGNALS – WISH LIST
Interestingly New Delhi has not formally reacted to the churning in its
backyard, which is Maldives.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to visit Male in 2015 but cancelled the visit
at the last moment. Both External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign
Secretary S. Jaishankar visited Male and reportedly offered some plain speak to
their interlocutors. Well, President Yameen visited India in April 2016. It was a
low key visit.
“As long as President Yameen insists on running the country as an autocrat, he
cannot be a friend of India. I think it is important that India has given that
message to President Yameen….,” said Nasheed who made London his perch
and Colombo his sounding post.
And he is not hiding his wish list.
“I am sure India will read the writing on the wall from our alliance of the four
parties of the Maldives, that we have the vast majority of people with us… and I
am sure they will act accordingly,” said the former President.
How things will shape up in the days ahead depend as much on this eternal
optimist as on the pragmatist- Maumoon Gayoom, his tormentor turned
collaborator to save democracy in Maldives, the home to 340,000 Sunni
(* The writer is a Delhi-based analyst & Editor, South Asian Tribune)
1. No-confidence motion defeated – as it happened; Maldives
Independent, Mar 27, 2017
2. Two Gayooms, two councils, two SGs: A tale of two factions
Mihaaru.com, October 17, 2016
3. The Maldives: Losing a Tourist Paradise to Terrorism
Terrorism Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 2
4. Islamic State: The Maldives – a recruiting paradise for jihadists
By Oliver Wright in The Independent, UK, Sept 13, 2014
5. Former presidents, party leaders unite to ‘restore democracy’
Maldives Independent, Mar 25, 2017
6. Maldives: first democratic leader, ex-strongman sign pact
7. MPs plan to oust Gayoom from PPM leadership
Report in Maldives independent, Mar 26, 2017
8. Majority leader threatens journalist with defamation action
by Mohamed Junayd in Maldives Independent, Mar 26, 2017
9. Falaah: Will impeach Maumoon from PPM Presidency
Report in The Sun, Mar 25, 2017
10. Both sides certain of victory ahead of no-confidence vote
by Ahmed Naish in Maldives independent, Mar 23, 2017
11. High court rules against Gasim’s Villa in resort lease dispute:
by Ahmed Naish in Maldives Independent,Mar 22, 2017
12. Gasim urges MPs who switched sides to leave ruling party
Maldivian Independent, Mar 20, 2017
13. Saved by the bull: Azra Naseem Maldivian Independent, Mar18, 2017
14. MDP calls for President Yameen to face investigation over Maldives
biggest ever corruption scandal: Maldivian Independent, Jan 31, 2016
15. No-confidence motion filed to remove Speaker Maseeh:
By Ahmed Naish in Maldives independent, Mar 8, 2017
16. Maldives court sentences woman to death by stoning, Oct 18, 2015
17. Maldives exiled leader Nasheed vows to take parliament
AFP report in Mail on line, Mar 26, 2017
18. Maldivian arch-rivals Mohammad Nasheed, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
join forces: By Suhasini Haidar, The Hindu, Mar 26, 2017
19. ‘India’s silence on Maldives is troubling’
By Meera Srinivasan in the Hindu, Aug 31, 2016
20. 'Maldives is sitting on a time bomb': by Parvathi Menon in The Hindu,
Mar 4, 2016
21. India Maldives relations at a glance:
By Deepalakshmi K in The Hindu, April 11, 2016
22. Maldives court jails opposition figure Sheikh Imran Abdulla for 12 years
AFP report in the Guardian, Feb 17, 2016
23. Islamist Leader Jailed For 12 Years on Terror Charge in Maldives
NDTV report, February 17, 2016
24. Adhaalath Party: Wikipedia