The Ihavandhippolhu bunkering project in Haa Alifu (HA) Atoll, which will seek to provide new revenue streams to the state via the refuelling and servicing of foreign ocean-going vessels, will start within the next two to three weeks, Minister of Economic Development and Trade Mohamed Saeed has said.

Saeed — as President Mohamed Muizzu kicked off his visit to the northern region of the Maldives on Saturday and is expected to visit islands in the atolls of Haa Alifu (HA), Haa Dhaalu (HDh), Shaviyani (Sh), and Noonu (N) — said that the bunkering venture would begin operations before the end of July.

“Hopefully in a space of two or three weeks we will have the bunkering service area set up, in association with one of the strongest companies counted among the top 10 in the world. When it gets to that point, in the next two to three months, we are hoping to start that venture here before the end of July,” he said.

Qatar’s UrbaCon Trading and Contracting, which developed the Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi Resort on a design and build basis and is considered one of the Middle East’s leading construction companies, has been awarded the contract at Ihavandhippolhu.

Saeed said the venture would create jobs and business opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) while also opening up a huge opportunity for foreign exchange to enter the Maldives.

While the global bunkering industry is valued at a staggering US$150 billion, the venture at Ihavandhippolhu might be ideally located — at a crossroads of the Indian Ocean’s principal east-west shipping lanes and with the daily passage of over 300 large vessels — to add value to the Maldives’ economy the State Trading Organisation (STO), had said earlier.

The dredging for the Maldives Economic Gateway project will also start this year, the economic minister said.

“We are in talks with a European bank to raise funds for that, and we see a future hopefully,” he said.