With the Maldivian island being spread out, transportation from one island to the other can be a little tricky. In the past, locals took week-long trips just to get from one island to the other for basic necessities, but as time went on and transportation in the Maldives developed speed boats, ferry services and the aviation industry was introduced to the country. Soon enough, the distance between islands grew shorter due to these advancements.
One of the biggest advancements in the transportation sector of the Maldives came in 2018 with the construction of the Sinamale’ bridge. Officially inaugurated on August 2018, Sinamale’ bridge, commonly known as the China-Maldives friendship bridge. This bride brought about a lot of advancements to the greater Male’ area as it connected Male’, Velana International Airport and Hulhumale’, making transportation between these three locations much easier. People were no longer required to get on 25-minute long ferry rides to get to the Hulhumale’ as they were only a taxi or bus ride away, making the trips feel safer and easier for many.
The Greater Male’ Connectivity Project
With a similar outcome in mind, the current Government started working on the idea of linking Male’, Villingili, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi. On August 2, 2022, on an official visit to India, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih along with Indian Prime Minister Modi officially inaugurated the fieldwork for the Thilamale’ bridge also known as the greater Male’ connectivity project (GMC).
As one of the largest infrastructure projects, the greater Male’ connectivity project is being funded by a USD 400 million line of credit from the Indian Exim Bank and a USD 100 million grant from the Indian Government.
The official works of the project was started soon after the inauguration as sea transport between Male’ and Villimale’ was officially halted as the ongoing constructions made the route dangerous for travel.
By June 1st 2022, in a statement given to the press, Afcon Infrastructure Limited who is responsible for the construction of the bridge announced that the bridge connecting Male’ to Villimale’ would be completed and ready to use by July 2023. In their statement they also revealed that the project was going according to the timeline, revealing that the second link connecting Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi is to be completed in 2024 as well.
While the project initially started with 88 engineers and 500 foreign labourers, Afcon also revealed that this team was to be expanded later to 164 engineers and 1,227 labourers in order to complete the largest infrastructure project in the Maldives to date.
However, by December 2022 people started noticing that the progress of the GMC project was taking a slow turn as there was little to no progress that anyone could really see. On December 15, 2022, during a press conference, the Planning Ministry of the Maldives revealed that the bridge between Male’ and Villimale’ is to be constructed by December 2023 in order to ensure the quality and standard of the bridge. During this Briefing the GMC project manager Mohamed Jinan stated that the piling work required for the construction of the initial pillars has been completed and the pile cap is currently being laid.
Things just keep going wrong for this project
In addition to the complaints and mockery from the public regarding the slow pace of the bridge, the GMC project has also caused much damage to the environment since its inception of the project.
The first incident took place on August 16, 2022, when a platform used for the construction of the bridge ran aground the Villimale’ reef, causing major damage to the Villimale’ reef. This incident caused major public outrage as environmentalists called for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to look into the damages and hold the company and Government accountable for the damages.
An investigation was soon launched by EPA, leading them to fine the company by MVR 69 million. In addition to the environmental damages caused during this incident, three workers were injured during this incident. While the police revealed that none of the workers sustained any major injuries, all three were rushed to the Villimale’ hospital to receive treatment.
While these damages alone led to many wondering if the construction of the bridge was worth all the hassle, things only got worse as yet another incident took place. On the 5th of December 2022, a bom of a crane used in the construction of the bridge failed and fell into the sea, creating a rather dangerous environment for all the workers as well as imposing another threat to the reef and marine life in the area. However, it was reported that no one was harmed during this incident and so the work towards building the bridge carried on.
And just when people thought things could not get worse on the GMC project, on 15th December 2022 a fire broke out on the accommodation block where 465 AFCON workers were housed. While 70 people were treated for various injuries, it was revealed that some of the workers jumped from the building in order to escape the fire. Sadly, on 17th December 2022, the GMC project manager Mohamed Jinan stated that one of the workers has still not been located since the fire broke out on Thursday night – a terrifying thought to many as the Maldives recently had a major fire incident taking the lives of 10 foreign workers.
Despite repeated assurances from the government that the first phase of the GMC project will be completed by December 2023, it does not appear possible that the bridge will be built within the deadline considering the myriad of issues that have arisen in the short time since the project's inception. Many are beginning to question the viability of this project in light of the environmental damages and repeated dangers to the workers.