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Maldives: Customs and the Elusive Agent

By Val Ellis last modified May 02, 2013 12:50 PM

Published: 2012-08-05 09:45:00
Countries: Maldives

Our thanks to Denis Brunin for this report.

We left Sri Lanka heading to Addu atoll South of the Maldives on April 2 but encountered South Westerlies which pushed us North to Uligame which is a port of entry in the Maldives. We circumnavigate the island on arrival only to find out that there was no suitable anchorage in the actual weather conditions. We decided to seek shelter at the other end of the atoll and anchored on a sand bank in front of a deserted island to take a rest and to check on one of our props who had been damaged.

We were quickly boarded by 5 officials who cleared us in. They kindly allowed us to overnight there as they agreed that to anchor in Uligame then was not an option (yachts are not allowed to seek shelter in ports behind break waters in the Maldives).

Once cleared in we were informed we had 48 hours to find an agent, when we asked were we could find one we were told it was easy on the internet but didn't had a connection yet. Next morning we considered our options. In Male and/or Addu we would find an agent for sure, we decided for the latter as this was on our route to Chagos in anyway. We made the 460 nm non-stop journey to Addu atoll in about 90 hours.

We found out that the anchorage inside the reef at the causeway next Gen island in Addu has become too shallow for keel boats. The place is filled with small vessels and mooring lines which leave hardly any room for a sailboat. However, it's a good place to leave your dinghy right in front of the police station that was burned out during the recent riots, beware of the police and coast guard boats leaving the place at full speed! We anchored just outside the causeway, not really sheltered but inside the lagoon and good holding in 30 meters which is the very limit for our windlass.

Next day we were boarded by a custom officer, who told us he was there to help not to make problems. We explained that we got a clearance in Uligame and that we had sailed as quickly as possible directly to Addu in order to find an agent, one was contacted for us by phone. A meeting was arranged hours later, the agent was going to secure the needed cruising permit, diesel, gasoline and a sim card. We finally bought a local sim card ourselves and also gasoline as the agent never showed up again, we called him later to arrange a meeting at 10 am at his office but were informed on arrival that he was still sleeping.

After countless phone calls and visits at his office he finally showed up 1 week later with the the diesel and the cruising permit which is basically a very expensive sloppy paper on which even the name of our boat wasn't correctly spelled.

We naively thought that now we had a cruising permit we would be free to "cruise" around the atoll but were quickly summoned by custom to return to "the anchorage" for no particular reason. A couple of days later we decided to set sail to Chagos as we had a good weather window. Customs picked us up for a visit at their office in order to sign a declaration about the agent we hadn't been able to secure within 48 hours. Our agent was also present, we gave him our passports and boat papers to proceed with the clearance and we were brought back to our boat by customs who told us we had now 24 hours to leave and wished us a nice trip to Chagos. To our surprise the agent returned later with our passport stamped out but no port clearance. We told him to ask custom to give us a call to let us know what the problem might be. At 1 am next morning we were boarded by a custom officer and 3 police men who told us we were under investigation now and not allowed to leave anymore.

Meantime our agent informed us that he wasn't acting as our agent anymore, but still wanted to get paid in full for the outbound clearance he hadn't secured. Apparently, Maldivian agents are liable for any fines for their clients and will thus most likely abandon you in case there would be a problem with officials.

Three days later we were invited by customs to clear out by ourselves and pay a fine of 5000 rupiahs (US$325). I was asked to sign a new declaration (slightly different than the first one) and a 3 page long paper about the outcome of the investigation in local language, which I refused to sign. It took more than 3 hours to get a translation faxed from Male which came out only half a page long in English. This is how I finally ended up signing my own name under "Agent name" on the outbound clearance form just after being fined for not having an agent.

Meanwhile, our ex agent kept threatening us via text messages telling us he would get our vessel boarded and that we would get in much trouble if we wouldn't pay whatever amount he thought we owe him. This is not very reassuring in a place were people burn down police stations.

Our friendly taxi driver who stayed the whole day with us and had over heard all conversations in Maldivian with the officials told us it would be better to leave immediately but since the weather had deteriorated again we decided to leave next morning in day light instead heading to Chagos in rough weather.

Denis, Maria, Mao and Freddie
S/V Theis

Editor’s note: Yachts can stay up-to 48 hours at the arrival Port of Entry without appointing an agent. But the vessel must get clearance within 24 hours of arrival and clear out within 48 hours. A Cruising Permit Fee of US$325 (MVR 5000.00) is payable for stays of more than 48 hours. See full details at Maldives Formalities.