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Asian Tsunami Imagery
Male International Airport
Republic of Maldives

Republic of Maldives includes some 1,200 coral islands grouped in double chain of twenty-seven atolls. In many ways, the Maldives are the archetype of the sunny coral atoll. Most atolls are ringshaped coral reefs supporting five to ten inhabited islands and twenty to sixty uninhabited islands. Average size of islands one to two kilometers and height of 1.5 meters above sea level. Composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, these atolls are situated atop a submarine ridge 960 kilometers long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Ocean and runs from north to south. Only near the southern end of this natural coral barricade do two open passages permit safe ship navigation from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other through the territorial waters of Maldives.

Most atolls consist of a large, ring-shaped coral reef supporting numerous small islands. Islands average only one to two square kilometers in area, and lie between one and 1.5 meters above mean sea level. The highest island is situated at three meters above sea level. Maldives has no hills or rivers. Although some larger atolls are approximately fifty kilometers long from north to south, and thirty kilometers wide from east to west, no individual island is longer than eight kilometers. Each atoll has approximately five to ten inhabited islands; the uninhabited islands of each atoll number approximately twenty to sixty. Several atolls, however, consist of one large, isolated island surrounded by a steep coral beach.

Male, the capital of the Maldives is 1.7 x 1.1 km large and located at the south end of Kaafu Atoll. It hosts about 60,000 of the 230,000 Maldivian inhabitants and is very close to Hulule, the airport island. Most of the hotels on Male are located on the NE corner with direct boat shuttle to the airport. Mechanical workshops for wood and metal, hardware and electrical shops can be found everywhere on the island and the center road (Majeedhee Magu) is the main shopping area.

The harbor for large ships is at the north end and can accommodate container ships. From there, transport of heavy equipment can be organized to Hulule. Maldives has an active merchant shipping fleet used for import and export purposes, including ten cargo vessels, one container ship, and one oil tanker. The government-owned Maldives National Ship Management, Ltd. is the largest of several Maldivian shipping firms. Male, the only port that can handle international traffic, has been improved by the First Male Port Development Project completed in late 1992. The Second Male Port Development Project, partly financed by a loan from the Asian Development Bank, began in late 1993 and was completed in 1996.

Maldives has two airports with permanent-surface runways more than 2,440 meters long, one located adjacent to Male on Hulele Island, known as Male International Airport, and the other on Gan Island in the southernmost Addu Atoll, which is scheduled to become an international airport.

Hulule is the first point of contact for every visitor coming in from overseas. The airport terminal is in the center of the island. The meteorological office is just north of that and the harbor can be seen on the left, surrounded by several jetties. Since 1981, after the runway was widened and expanded, the airport on Hulele has been able to handle direct charter flights from Europe.

Due to the aftermath of lethal tsunamis the Government of the Maldives has declared a state of emergency. In the Maldives, about half of the island of Male was covered in two feet of water. The Male airport remained closed as of December 26, 2004.

The airport on Gan was used only for domestic traffic. Two additional domestic airports cater to foreign tourists. One on Kadu Island in Haddummati Atoll opened in 1986, and the other on Hanimadu Island in South Tiladummati Atoll opened in 1990. A further domestic airport on Kodedu Island was scheduled to open in 1994.

In 1974 the government created Air Maldives, which had one eighteen-seat airplane. In the early 1990s, Air Maldives flew between Hulele and Gan three days a week, and Kadu twice a week. A twenty-seat seaplane operated by Inter Atoll Air also flew scheduled and chartered flights between Hulele and many of the resorts. In addition, Hummingbird Helicopters (Maldives) and Seagull Airways each operated four helicopters for interisland flights. Another firm, Maldives Air Services, coordinated all air services on the ground.

The Maldivian economy is based on tourism and fishing. Limitations on potable water and arable land constrain expansion. Development has been centered upon the tourism industry and its complementary service sectors, transport, distribution, real estate, construction, and government. Taxes on the tourist industry have been plowed into infrastructure and used to improve technology in the agricultural sector.

In recent years, Maldives has successfully marketed its natural assets for tourism--beautiful, unpolluted beaches on small coral islands, diving in blue waters abundant with tropical fish, and glorious sunsets. Tourism now brings in about $198 million a year. Tourism and related services contributed 31% of GDP in 2002. Since the first resort was established in 1972, more than 87 islands have been developed, with a total capacity of some 19,000 beds. The number of tourists (mainly from Europe) visiting the Maldives increased from 1,100 in 1972 to 280,000 in 1994. In 2000, the number of tourist arrivals exceeded 466,000; although final figures are not yet available, the number is expected to top 500,000 for 2003. The average occupancy rate is 69%, with the average tourist staying 8 days and spending about $396.

The United States has friendly relations with the Republic of Maldives. The U.S. Ambassador and some Embassy staff in Sri Lanka are accredited to the Maldives and make periodic visits. The United States supports Maldivian independence and territorial integrity and publicly endorsed India's timely intervention on behalf of the Maldivian Government during the November 1988 coup attempt. U.S. Naval vessels have regularly called at Male' in recent years. The Maldives extended strong support to U.S. efforts to combat terrorism and terrorist financing in 2001-02.

US contributions to economic development in the Maldives have been made principally through international organization programs. Although no bilateral aid agreement exists between the two countries, the United States has directly funded training in airport management and narcotics interdiction and provided desktop computers for Maldivian customs, immigration, and drug-control efforts in recent years. The United States also trains a small number of Maldivian military personnel annually. About 10 US citizens are resident in the Maldives; some 5,000 Americans visit the Maldives annually.



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