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Personality of the Month – Aishath Nahula, Minister of Transport & Civil Aviation

Personality of the Month – Aishath Nahula, Minister of Transport & Civil Aviation

In the Maldives, everything is dependent on transportation. Some 90% of all goods used within the country are imported via ships, the majority of goods transported domestically go through domestic ports to other locales via smaller cargo shipping boats, link roads and bridges, and about 80% of all tourists who visit the Maldives fly here. There is one commonality between all these socioeconomically-crucial services., and that the governing body in charge, the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, and the Minister at the head of this governing body, H.E Aishath Nahula.

Since taking office, the Minister has accomplished several impressive milestones. With the launch of the Government’s Strategic Action Plan (SAP) for the years 2019 to 2023, it was clear that the Ministry had developed a sound plan for the enhancement of Maritime Domain within the Maldives. Notable among these milestones are the IMO Audit completed in 2022 and the corrective action plan drafted to enable the Maritime industry as per the IMO guidelines, with 16 regulations related to the maritime affairs drafted. The number of land and sea accidents had also been reduced through monitoring and implementing policies along with conducting awareness programmes and roadshows for both land and maritime safety.

The introduction of e-services for the public is another notable achievement, facilitating the submission of different requests and 24/7 services through an online portal. In addition to this, bilateral ties were strengthened through MOUs and treaties, and a much-needed public transport network has also been developed within the Maldives under her tenure.

We had a quickfire Q&A session with Minister Aisha to discuss her role overseeing the Ministry, and her thoughts on the maritime industry, shipping, and the changes to global sea trade in recent years.

What are some of the key projects that you have completed so far, and are expecting to complete soon?

The RTL project, which includes Land and Maritime public transport, was initiated and overseen by MoTCA. Today the public can commute e ciently with a ordable prices in a comfortable environment. We’ve also managed to sign bilateral MoUs with multiple countries and organisations, in particular, I want to highlight the MoU with Singapore, a leader in the maritime industry. We are in communication to set up technical knowledge transfer enabled through the MoU. We have some major projects that are ongoing and if you look at the current international airport, we are going through an expansion phase where a new terminal building will be serviceable before the end of this year. Similarly, the Thilamalé link bridge, the Gulhifalhu Port and Hanimaadhoo Airport are some of the key projects that we expect to bolster our economy in the years to come.

On the subject of ports, do you feel that the currently established ports are enough to cater to the growing needs of our ever-increasing population including the floating population which exceeds millions annually?

I believe the current ports need to be redeveloped to increase the capacity. At this moment in time, we aren’t able to cater to the foreseeable demand, but the expansion of existing ports to cater to the regional demand. Provision of services that are competitively priced will enable more tra c in addition to lowering the costs of logistics, which will have a positive impact on cost of consumer products.

What kind of socioeconomic impact do you foresee for those areas with the port redevelopment projects?

Quality of port infrastructure will have a positive impact on the logistical performance of a country. Better logistical performance results in higher sea trade, and therefore yielding economic growth.

As ports enable trade and support the supply chain, we forecast diversification of trade and I foresee a developed nation- a nation that will stand out as one that revived their maritime industry to its historic glory. More employment opportunities, Reduction in production and transport costs. Ports are the gateway to enhance economic activities and play a major role in directly and indirectly boosting the national economy.

Do you foresee the Maldives becoming an even stronger presence as a stopover on major trade routes with the establishment of the new main port on Gulhifalhu island?

Maldives is strategically placed to increase the movement of tra c through the region, it takes great facilities, quick turnarounds and swift logistical arrangements in and around the port to make it a success. Our aim is to excel in all aspects, to ensure that this becomes a key addition to drive more traffic.

With the advent of the nationwide ferry network, connectivity has increased as never before in the Maldives. What benefits will this bring about to the nation and to the seafaring industry?

Some of the major benefits of the ferry network include benefits to the local economy and local tourism, movements of goods within the islands, development, and implementation of a decentralisation plan; connectivity enables reaching out to health facilities among the islands by providing a reliable, a ordable, and consistent transport network. It also catered to the job needs of locals by recruiting them as local seafarers and terminal attendants.

The establishment of a new national shipping line by the government was done during the most challenging time of Covid-19 pandemic. What was so urgent about the setting up of a new shipping line during uncertain times?

It was a decision driven by the fact that we had planned in our SAP and the National development plan to ensure that the nation has its own reliable shipping line that would take away our reliance on other countries and initiate a movement to self-sustainability in the future. It makes a more independent and reliable source to facilitate import and export to the country during such a challenging time. Furthermore, the shipping line created a job market for Maldivian seafarers, and the new young cadets got the opportunity for internships in Sea Service.

There are some areas in the Maldives, such as Uligamu, which are wellestablished on international maps, such as the UK hydrographic office large-scale charts, as markers for travelling yachts.What are your thoughts on developing infrastructure such as a yacht marina at the location?

There are designated areas where international yacht marinas are to be developed, and Uligamu is included in the plan. I strongly feel that the location is ideal and strategic if you consider the route which

We see a majority of the crew on boats carrying cargo from one island to another are expatriates. Do you have a plan to train these expatriate workers and to licence them to prioritise vessel safety?

As per the local regulations published, an expatriate cannot be employed as a boat captain. 99% of the local vessel captains are Niyama, Niyami1, and Niyami2 trained. We expect that all the crews will be trained for the new syllabus that will be published within 02 months’ time.

The use of new and digital technology has become inevitable to the industry and is booming everywhere. Do you have any plans in assisting with the transfer of digital technology to local vessels?

It is mandatory that all vessels trading up to 24 nautical miles have a digital vessel tracking device. Most ferry service providers have digitised their ticketing system. Our aim is to lead our maritime industry into the future with the adaptation of new technologies which will ensure the sustainability and e ciency of the maritime trade.

Seafaring was one of the highest foreign currency contributors to our economy during the 80s to 90s. Why do you think the popularity declined? Are there any plans to revive this industry?

Due to the fast development of the tourism industry, the popularity of seafaring declined, as tourism industry jobs were more available and attractive compared to seafaring. In 2022 officers’ training scheme was introduced to rebuild the seafaring industry. It is expected that within the next 03 years the first batch of o cers will be available to the industry. We have 11 cadets going through training as of now as Navigational Officers and the target is to train 30 officers both from Engine and Deck side.

On the subject of training, there is a talk within the maritime industry that the centre for maritime studies, MNU, can perform better if CMS runs independently from MNU. What is your opinion?

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The government is streamlining the CMS by a liating with international Maritime Training Institutes and building infrastructure in accordance with International Maritime regulations and conventions.

Aiming to adapt to greener energy sources and promoting sustainability in transportation is one of the key mandates of the ministry. What have you done under your tenure to ensure that this vision will come to fruition? We have always tried to promote the use of green energy in the projects that have been carried out. Maritime industry requires a lot of infrastructural changes to transition into green energy-based vessels. It remains as a priority in our work to embed sustainable methods and resources in planning for the future.

It is a common occurrence that local and foreign vessels get grounded on our sensitive reefs. Are there plans to adopt a system such as the IALA buoyage system to avoid such incidents repeating?

The establishment of a VTS system for the Malé area will prevent such incidents. This is mentioned in the Strategic Action Plan 2019-2023. Also, the enhancement of maritime regulations will address these kinds of issues in the future.

What are some of the most di cult challenges you faced during your tenure so far, and how did you overcome them?

Most maritime-related services were administered without an appropriate legal framework with few regulations in place. To overcome this, necessary amendments to the Maritime Act were proposed, and started drafting regulations through expert knowledge.

To maintain MoTCA services during Covid 19, an online portal was introduced, verification done online, and self-collection system for documents introduced. What is your advice to young women looking to establish themselves as leaders of their respective industries and trades?

I believe that the gender equality campaigns, and awareness has worked well and given a somewhat equal footing to everyone who is willing to step up to lead in their field regardless of gender. That being said, much work remains to ensure equal opportunity and create a harmonious workplace for all. As someone who leads an institution, you’re bound to face criticism, challenges and obstacles. My advice to young people is that you must hold on to your ethics, respect your colleagues, regardless of their position and be focused on achieving the targets and objectives set out. This will ensure that you will remain on the path to success.

Do you have anything you would like to add in conclusion of this interview?

I would like to commend the team at MMJ for the work that is being done to showcase the developments of the maritime industry and educate everyone on how important the industry is in the e orts to build the nation.

My aim is to work with the industry to ensure that we overcome the challenges together and consult the stakeholders when we embark on major policy changes and during the adaptation.

Rubaa Ali
Author: Rubaa Ali

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