Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

The Maldives has been in the news quite a bit recently, following heightened political tensions. We asked some security experts if it is safe to visit the islands, what risks visitors might face and what they can do to mitigate those risks.

Update: You are reading our article from March 2018. For a more up to date piece published in September 2018, please click through here – Travel Advice: As the Maldives vote in a contentious election, is it safe to visit?

Government travel advice

Links to travel advice on visiting the Maldives from the following governments –

Please note that the travel advice varies – it is worth reading them all and reaching your own conclusion.

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Global Rescue

Email: press@globalrescue.com
Website: https://www.globalrescue.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GlobalRescue
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/global-rescue-llc

Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of integrated health, safety and travel risk management services. Since 2004, the firm has pioneered the delivery of medical, rescue and evacuation services to some of the earth’s most difficult places.

How safe is it to visit the Maldives?

Although the risk level in the Maldives is elevated due to recent political developments, travelers can take appropriate precautions—particularly avoiding any demonstrations and complying with instructions from security personnel—to significantly minimize the risk of a dangerous incident. There have been no reports of substantial unrest or violence in the resort areas popular with tourists, and there are economic incentives for the Maldives government to maintain tranquility. Travelers are more likely to encounter demonstrations, which police have responded to with tear gas and arrests, in Malé. The Parliament building, the Supreme Court, and the Artificial Beach are also likely sites for demonstrations and should be avoided.

What are the biggest risks?

Following a Maldives Supreme Court order to release and in some cases reinstate political prisoners, celebrations were held in streets nationwide from 2-5 February. Police responded to the celebrations with tear gas, prompting protests against President Abdulla Yameen’s administration. President Yameen then declared a state of emergency on 5 February, citing the Supreme Court ruling as an obstruction of the function of the government. Members of Parliament then approved a 30-day extension of the nationwide state of emergency on 20 February on the basis of threats to national security. The measure—which restricts the freedom of assembly, enables the government to conduct arrests, and suspends the right of Parliament to impeach the president—will remain in effect until 22 March. On top of that, police issued a nationwide curfew beginning at 22:30 local time daily. The curfew is reportedly being imposed to halt the gathering momentum of the government opposition.

The significant effect of the current political situation that is mostly likely to affect travelers is the heightened presence of police, soldiers, and other security personnel nationwide. Authorities have erected checkpoints and may be more aggressive in demanding travelers’ passports and papers for verification. Travelers visiting areas outside of traditional tourist spots may face extra scrutiny, particularly if they are suspected of being foreign journalists. While there is a risk of encountering protests or clashes between opposition demonstrators and police, episodes of violent unrest have largely occurred away from tourist hotspots.

What are the overlooked risks?

An often overlooked risk is that the Maldives’ remote location can make legal, security, and medical response difficult to access and expensive without the help of a facilitator like Global Recue. There are no US, UK, or Australian diplomatic missions in the Maldives, necessitating that travelers contact the embassy in Sri Lanka for assistance. The lack of consular and diplomatic services can delay response time in the event that travelers run into trouble with local authorities—a risk that’s elevated by the recent state of emergency that gives the police broad powers of arrest. The recent unrest surrounding the measure has also sparked concerns about the cost and feasibility of a security evacuation from the Maldives in the event that the security environment devolves to the point where it’s unsafe to present in the country as a foreigner. Evacuation service providers that cover the cost of repatriation are a great investment for travelers to restive countries, particularly those as remote as the Maldives. Medical care and facilities are limited in the Maldives, and serious medical problems will require evacuation to the nearest qualified medical facility, often in Singapore. Two hospitals are located in Malé, and they do offer adequate services for routine medical problems. However, intensive care unit (ICU) capabilities are limited in these hospitals and they are located several hours away from the resort islands.

Most visits to the Maldives are free of major security threats, levels of crime are low, and the area is widely considered a safe, island getaway. Nevertheless, a significant development to keep in mind is that the presence of numerous foreign national tourists in the country has resulted in luxury resorts becoming attractive “soft” targets of terrorism. Although most people do not consider the Maldives a hotspot for global terrorism, by some estimates the country provides the highest per-capita number of foreign fighters to extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. As global efforts to counter extremism and terrorism have made it more difficult to travel to Iraq and Syria, groups like the Islamic State have encouraged supporters to refocus their efforts on conducting attacks on domestic targets. It is foreseeable that homegrown extremists could target resorts that are popular with Western tourists.

Travelers are advised that only 20 percent of the islands in the Maldives lie more than 1 meter above sea level. Strong storms regularly form in the Pacific and Indian Oceans during the monsoon season, which in the Maldives lasts from May to November. Given the nation’s low-lying position so close to sea level, many island are vulnerable to catastrophic damage stemming from storms. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit 69 inhabited islands in the Maldives, causing over USD 470 million worth of damage, which is approximately 60 percent of the country’s GDP.

How should people mitigate this?

Travelers are encouraged to create a communications plan that encompasses regular check-ins and actions to take in the event of an overdue or missed contact. Employees should develop this with their home office and tourists may consider doing this with family or a trusted friend. A communications plan should include a primary method of communicating and one or two alternates. Options include phone, text, or email. Check-ins are encouraged approximately every 24 hours or so depending on the itinerary and overall comfort level of the traveler.

Consider a satellite phone or satellite-enabled device. In the event of an emergency, telecommunications infrastructure is likely to be damaged or overloaded and cellular networks as well as internet providers may crash. A satellite device may be your only link to the outside during such a situation. Numerous options are commercially available, including short-term rentals. Carry a spare battery and keep them charged.

Plan to have a go-bag with you at all times. Small amounts of money, identification, energy bars, a rain shell and light layer, comfortable shoes you can walk a far distance in, your communications device(s) and appropriate charger, a small toothbrush, and any necessary medicines are all appropriate items to keep in the bag. Add a bottle of water or two once you arrive at your destination. The bag should include your necessities, everything you need to leave the country with, and be light enough to carry for an extended period.

Do a map study of the areas you’ll be visiting and mentally mark things like the airport, your hotel, and tourist destination, but also take note of where past protests and demonstrations have occurred or places where protests are likely to occur such as government and military infrastructure, places of worship, universities, and squares. Be aware that some of these locations may overlap. Use this information to plan your daily activities. Remain aware and alert while driving around.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to the Maldives have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employers have a duty to provide their staff with the appropriate safeguards to allow them to complete their work. Employers should provide their staff with important country data such as entry and exit requirements as well as health and safety risks. That information can include required and recommended vaccines as well as steps to prevent insect-borne disease.

Employees need to be proactive in their own wellness and safety. Employers have a duty to provide information and tools to the employee; however, the employee has a duty to review that information and take necessary steps to action any of the recommended items.

Heading to the Maldives on vacation? Check out the travel safety advice from these experts. Thaa Atoll, Maldives by Philipp Kämmerer on Unsplash

 

Travel Operative

Email: editor@traveloperative.com
Website: www.traveloperative.com
Twitter: @travel_ops

The Travel Operative is a website produced by people who have spent many years working behind the scenes in the security domain. Together with their extensive travel experiences, they provide free detailed analysis of location-specific threats and security insights for travellers.

How safe is it to visit the Maldives?

We ran a piece back in November 2016 that provided some information on the risks involved with travelling to the Maldives and the political situation in the capital of Malé.  We were of the view that the ongoing political turmoil could potentially spill over into civil unrest on Malé Island. As recently as 2 March 2018, the Australian government issued an update via the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website recommending travellers avoid all “protests and large public gatherings as they have the potential to turn violent.”  The advice also indicated the possibility of terrorist attacks against Maldivian institutions and tourist locations frequented by Westerners.

Further to the threat of politically motivated violence and perhaps more significant for Western tourists, we believe that the threat of Islamic extremism is relatively high. The Maldives has more terrorists per capita than any other country in the world who have fought with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

What are the biggest risks?

As stated above, we believe that the biggest risks are related to the civil disturbances in the capital of Malé. Therefore, we would recommend that all visitors steer clear or at least minimise the time spent in the capital. The confluence of civil unrest and returning extremists is very concerning and as domestic discontent grows, the threat of terrorism increases in parallel.

What are the overlooked risks?

The typical tourist in the Maldives sets off for the over water bungalows and coral reefs of the archipelago avoiding the capital of Male altogether. Although under the current state of emergency, one could not rule out terrorist attacks targeting Western interests across the archipelago and given the country demographics, we believe the threat of terrorism is often overlooked.

Let’s use a few examples to illustrate how a terrorist attack may be carried out against Western interests in the Maldives. Firstly, the mass shooting at Port El Kantaoui just outside of Sousse in Tunisia in 2015 was perpetrated by a single shooter who targeted a beach side hotel. Multiple assailants targeted a hotel frequented by Westerners at Grand Bassam beach in the Ivory Coast in 2016. Finally much closer to the Maldives, 10 men launched a large scale terrorist attack from inflatable speedboats on a Mumbai hotel in 2008. These examples show that violent extremists in many developing countries have shown the capability and intent to carry out attacks against beach side hotels frequented by Westerners.

How should people mitigate this?

When it comes to the Maldives, the best form of protection is distance. We assess that a water-borne terrorist threat would be commanded from, and originate from the capital of Male due to access to materials, weapons, crew and vessels. Therefore, targets are more likely to be within a 50  kilometre radius of the capital which encapsulates most of the Kaafu Atoll. There are many resorts located within this area – see our website for more details. Sea approaches to these resorts are not usually protected or patrolled by security.

To mitigate against this threat, we suggest that tourists fly further south or north beyond Male as most of the outlying coral reefs are only reachable by sea plane.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to the Maldives have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employees should be provided with comprehensive travel insurance covering all medical expenses including repatriation. Given the aforementioned risks, full terrorism cover is a must. Employees should also check that their provider provides in-country support 24/7.

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