MPL: Ready to discuss reduction in pilotage fee

A cruise liner anchored outside Male’ City. (Photo/Abdulla Jaleel)

Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) said on Thursday that the company is ready to discuss a reduction in the pilotage fee charged for entrance and exit in Maldives, after an increase in the fee resulted in a halt in cruise liners that travel to the country.

Cruise liners that travel to Maldives anchor outside Male’ City. They are guided in and out of the area by pilots from MPL – which previously charged MVR 16,330.52 per hour for the service. The fee was unexpectedly increased to MVR 74,458.56 per hour last December. Cruise liners are also charged additional fees for the use of the port.

Maldives previously saw around 60 cruise liners each year. Some 60,000 tourists visit the country on the cruise liners alone each year. No cruise liners have travelled to Maldives this year – leaving arrivals from the sector blank.

Shipping companies report that many cruise liners express interest in traveling to Maldives, but later cancel due to the high pilotage fee.

MPL’s media official told Sun on Thursday morning that the change to the pilotage fee one of several key changes made by the company to improve its operations over the past three-four years.

He said that the fee was increased following discussions with industry experts.

“No concerns regarding the pilotage fee for cruise liners have been raised with this company, then or now,” he said.

However, Maldives Association of Yacht Agents (MAYA) says the pilotage fee was increased without prior discussion, and that the association had shared concerns over the fee with MPL on multiple occasions.

MPL said that it has initiated discussions with industry stakeholders to resolve the issue.

MPL said that it had previously set the pilotage fee based on its traffic rate. But the company, following discussions, categorized ships based on tonnage size, and set new traffic rates based on that.

The company says that the pilotage fee charged in Maldives remains lower than that charged in other countries in the region.

Large-scale shipping company, Alliance Management Services Company’s Managing Director Abdulla Jaleel told Sun that while Maldives increased its pilotage fee significantly, the pilotage fee charged by other regional countries remains the same, leading to cruise liners travelling to those countries.

“They check the rate and change because the fee is too high. It can be done in Lanka for USD 400. The ship can be docked at the jetty for that rate in Lanka. In Maldives, the ships need to anchor outside and hire ferries to disembark passengers. It’s cheaper in India and Seychelles as well. So they go to those countries now,” he said.

“Because the cruise ships are travelling after having to be grounded for so long, they are also running at a huge loss. So they too travel to ports where they can maximize profit.”

Sunrise Maldives’ Managing Director Mohamed Shaheer told Sun that the pilotage fee in Maldives is the highest in the region. He said that despite the higher fee, Maldives offers less services than other countries.

Shaheer said that the high pilotage fee has halted the arrival of cruise liners altogether, and has also reduced the number of yachts that travel to Maldives.

While shipping companies earn a massive income from cruise liners, they also face various operational challenges. While cruise liners had previously been allowed the use of the official jetty to disembark passengers, it was later disallowed and the Fishermen’s Park was later allowed as a disembarkation point, after much pressing by shipping companies.

Maldives had previously been a port of embarkation and disembarkation of tourists to cruise liners. In addition to the direct income, cruise liners had also been a source of indirect income; the money earned by ferries hired to carry the passengers in and out of Male’, the fuel and water purchased by the ships, and the spending the passengers do once in Male’. The days’ passengers from cruise liners disembark to Male’ were also high pay days for taxis. This has also stopped with the halt in arrival of cruise liners to Maldives.