At least three fishing vessels operating within the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on Wednesday accused foreign naval officers of boarding and interrogating their crew members. The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has confirmed it is actively investigating the incidents, involving a team from a foreign naval ship allegedly boarding and commandeering a Maldivian fishing vessel. The MNDF’s response included deploying the coastguard vessel to the reported area for a thorough investigation.

Details regarding the nationality of the foreign naval vessel remain undisclosed by the MNDF. However, amidst escalating diplomatic tensions between the Maldives and India, speculation is rife, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yet to make a formal statement on the matter. The Bodu Kanneli Masveringe Union (BKMU), representing yellowfin tuna fishermen, asserts that the involved naval vessel is Indian.

Hussain Rasheed, President of the BKMU, provided details of the incident, naming the targeted vessels as ‘Asuruma-3’, ‘Neru-7’, and ‘Maahoara-3’. He recounted how ‘Asuruma-3’ was first overflown by a drone before being boarded by a naval team, which came aboard two vessels. This operation, aimed at interrogating the crew about their use of certain satellite phones—banned in Indian waters—occurred despite the fishing activities taking place outside Indian jurisdiction.

The situation unfolded with the foreign naval officers spending approximately two hours on the fishing vessel, while the captain refused to comply with their demands for information. The vessel says it was constantly in touch with the Maldives Coastguard, as the contentious incident, unfolded 72 miles north of Thuraakunu Island in Haa Alifu Atoll.

Fisheries Minister Ahmed Shiyam voiced his concerns over the incident on social media, highlighting the seriousness of foreign military personnel boarding and questioning Maldivian fishermen within their own EEZ. 

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called for an immediate and high-level investigation into the allegations, urging the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to liaise with the governments of Sri Lanka and India to ascertain their involvement.

The party also urged the MNDF to conduct an expedited and thorough investigation while ensuring the safety of Maldivian fishermen within the country’s territorial waters.