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Hithadhoo Regional Port

Hithadhoo Regional Port

Not living up to its historic significance?

The opening of Hithadhoo Regional Port (HRP) at the Southernmost corner of the Maldives, Seenu (Addu) Atoll Hithadhoo, back in July 2009, was a godsend for residents in the area. The idea of directly importing perishable goods from neighbouring nations like India to the south of the Maldives had the potential to become a jumping-off point for a surge in economic activity within the atoll. Cost of goods and imports were expected to go down heavily for local businesses. Residents began looking forward to a swift improvement in the varieties of available goods and reductions in retail prices with the introduction of the new, efficient, and direct line of imports to the region. However, the port, since its inception, had instead become a contention point for most local businesses and residents alike, fraught with inconveniences and issues.

First Maldivian Port in History

Let’s take a step back first. A port was first constructed on Seenu Hithadhoo long before the introduction of HRP. All the way back in 1941, amidst World War II ‘Port T’ was constructed at Hithadhoo island as a British Royal Navy Refuelling Outpost. Port T was perhaps the first functional port in the Maldives, as The Maldivian National Trading Corporation (MNTC) was conceived in the 1950s, some 10+ years later. Prior to the 50s, port activity in Malé “consisted solely of portage of goods from anchored ships, and manual unloading and warehousing”.
Port T even preceded the famous RAF airstrip which was later constructed at Gan Island of the same Atoll, but the port eventually fell into disuse as the war progressed and keeping a wary eye on the Japanese was no longer the priority.

It should be noted that this port located in Hithadhoo was a lucrative one for the British. Reportedly, it was able to receive goods directly from India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) due to its exceptional location and was therefore protected across four incoming channels by the British Royal Navy. Port T was closed following the conclusion of World War II, around 1945-1946.

HRP – incentivising imports but with a cadre of issues

Back on the subject of HRP, the port which is now located in this historically lucrative position. HRP is a medium-sized port with a 130m built-in area. The port is managed and run by Hithadhoo Ports Limited (HPL), a subsidiary of Maldives Ports Limited (MPL). The port provides container handling, stripping and stuffing, cargo handling, and conditional warehousing services.As an additional incentive for local businesses in Addu Atoll to directly import goods through HRP, HPL also offers free storage facilities for up to 10 working days and a whopping 30% concession on imports.

While this all sounds good on paper, the port faced a bevy of issues, the main one being accusations of negligence to account for weather patterns before constructing the port. The reports of exceedingly slow service at the port once service was initiated were similarly attributed to this too. Tumultuous weather often led the waves to get unruly enough to make it difficult and potentially unsafe to attempt to berth. Ships roll in the port making it difficult and perilous to load or unload. Frustrated importers of perishable goods had sometimes resorted to physically unloading the goods via manual labour to cut down the waiting time.

The protection from the large islands around the port is not enough to keep the waters of the port calm at all times, and the idea that a breakwater wasn’t included in the construction plans to address this after conducting the initial surveys is just one of many grievances. Another notable issue, in hindsight, may be that while some goods may come into the port from international sources, there was little to no educational or awareness programmes conducted for local businesses. A programme to connect and help network between international exporters and local businesses may have led to more efficient use of the port.

Little to no effect on regional buying power

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Additionally, or perhaps in lieu of this, retail prices in Addu remain similar to Malé, to the disgruntlement of residents. This is alarming considering the fact that, as mentioned earlier, HRP offers a tariff concession of 30% on all imported goods cleared from HPL to encourage cargo processing directly through the HRP. Further, from 23 July 2020 onwards, a 50% waiver on all imports through regional ports, including HRP, was put into effect as per the 17th Amendment Bill to the Export-Import Act of Maldives (Act No. 31/79). Both of these should have, again on paper, resulted in severe reductions in at least some prices.

A hope for the future, with caveats?

There is a bright side though. In April of this year, MPL awarded a contract to the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to re-develop HRP into Addu International Port, with the first phase of this project expected to be completed in mid-2023. This project reportedly includes the dredging of 160,000 sqm and reclamation of some 8.4 hectares. The long-awaited breakwater is also included in this project, however, the berthing area itself is expected to be relocated before a breakwater is constructed to protect it. Two quay walls, 200m and 165m long respectively, are also planned to be added to the port under this project.

The announcement of the incoming dredging and reclamation has caused some consternation among the environmentally conscious, however, a full Environmental Impact Assessment would be reportedly conducted to alleviate any worries. At the time of this writing, this survey had not been made available to the public. These improvements, once implemented, are expected to finally create the stable import network that the residents and local businesses in the south have been waiting for since 2009.

Author: mmj

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