Despite initial fears that the Maldives could be struck by a tsunami wave on Wednesday afternoon, the Indian Ocean region was not affected by any irregular tidal action resulting from an earthquake off the northern coast of Indonesia.
An Indian Ocean-wide Tsunami Watch Bulletin was issued on Wednesday afternoon by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre
after an earthquake measuring 8.6 on the Richter scale occurred off the coast of Indonesia. This was followed by an aftershock measuring 8.2 almost two hours later, prolonging concerns that the earthquake, which was felt in the form of tremors in some buildings of the capital of Male', could cause irregularly large wave patterns in the nation.
After the country’s MET Office told local media at around 2:45pm of a potential tsunami risk to the Maldives, resort operators, major airports and government buildings all enacted precautionary counter measures to protect against severe waves. Any potential tsunami was intially anticipated of reaching the Maldives by about 5:00pm.
However, the warning was officially cancelled five hours after first being raised by Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, which initially revealed that sea level readings confirmed a “significant” tsunami was generated.
Following the issueing of the warning, government spokesman Abbas Adil Riza said the Maldives was evacuating beaches, whilst adding that the National Disaster Management Centre would also continue to issue updated warnings and assess any potential threat as the day progressed.
“Right now, we are seeing if there is a threat [from today's Indonesian earthquake] to this side of the Indian Ocean,” he told the Minivan News publication at the time.
However, despite initials fears over the scale of damage that could be caused across the Maldives low-lying atolls from the Indonesian earthquake, security officials in the country cautiously revealed an hour after the warning was first raised that there had been no sign of a tsunami in the region so far.
“At the moment we are monitoring areas around the country, but have not observed any tsunami,” Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told media Wednesday afternoon. “We have been in contact with other countries like Sri Lanka and India and they have said the same thing.”
In considering the implications of Wednesday's tsunami warning for the country's lucrative island-based resort industry, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said that government was working closely with the coast guard and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) at the potential crisis unfolded.
Deputy Minister Jamal told Minivan News that government bodies at the time were following the instructions of the coast guard and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) in responding to the tsunami warnings. Resort management had also been informed and the government was set to form its crisis management committee established following the 2004 Asian tsunami that struck many islands across the Maldives.
As the estimated time for a potential wave to hit the Maldives territories drew near, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb said on Twitter that all resorts had been contacted about the situation, while tourists were recalled to their islands so head counts could be taken.
At the same time, from the capital, commercial airliners were still continuing to fly into Irahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) situated just a small stretch of water across from Male'.
INIA CEO Andrew Harrison said during the tsunami warning that management were monitoring the situation as it developed at the airport, whilst countermeasures were also enacted.
Harrison added that airport management has spoken to sea plane operators and other airline operators at the time in order to potentially move some aircraft to protect against any adverse impacts from a tsunami or irregular tidal patterns.
Edward Alsford, Managing Director of local seaplane group Trans Maldivian Airlines (TMA) said the company had not opted to make any significant changes to its scheduled activities during the warning period. Alrsford added that TMA did have back up systems in place when necessary, adding that the sea plane operator had instead taken a precautionary stance while awaiting further information was awaited.
Out on the sea
As Met Office officials confirmed that the warning period was to be extended until 7:30pm, beyond the capital of Male', tourist businesses of various sizes were remaining cautiously optimistic about the situation.
Although it had not been a great day for surf tourism in the Maldives, safari boat operator Danielle Clayton, who was on her vessel in Dhaalu Atoll when the warning was first announced, said she and her crew had not experienced any adverse conditions out on the sea that day.
“We first found out about the situation from Facebook, but since then we have come into the atoll with a number of other [live-aboard] boats,” she said.
Clayton added that they had been visited by the coastguard and remained in touch with other vessels for updates on the situation.
“Our crew are local guys and they have been getting in touch with people too.”
The warning remained in place offivially until 7:45pm, before the director general of the Meterological Department confirmed the cancellation of the tsunami watch saying.
“The danger has passed. The wave was recorded mostly affecting Indonesia. There was only a small rise in our tsunami gauge,” he said.