Island paradise’s warning after deaths
IT'S the quintessential tropical paradise with turquoise waters, white sand beaches and spectacular coral reefs, and luxury resorts that have turned it into a lush playground for the rich and famous.
But in the Maldives, an idyllic atoll nation in the Indian Ocean, tourists have been dying in such quick succession its government has had to make a desperate move.
Five tourists have died in a single week in a series of drownings off the Maldives this month, in a country where such accidents are not common.
Earlier this month, two newlyweds from the Philippines died when they were swept away by a powerful undertow.
The man, Leomar Lagradilla, 30, got into trouble in the water and his wife Erika Joyce, 29, went to help him, but they both died of cardiac arrest. Their bodies were recovered and repatriated to the Philippines, officials said.
Then two other tourists - an 84-year-old Czech tourist and a 66-year-old traveller from South Korea - died within two days of each other, both while snorkelling near the Maldivian capital Male.
On Sunday, a Russian woman drowned after getting into trouble on a diving trip.
A holiday-maker from Pakistan came close to drowning but managed to be rescued from the water and was taken to hospital.
AFP reports strong currents due to a northeast monsoon were responsible for the deaths of the holiday-makers.
And it has been devastating for the tropical nation, which sees about 1.4 million tourists visit each year - including about 7000 Australians - but saw only 31 drownings in 2017.
The spike in deaths has prompted the Maldives government to issue a nationwide safety warning, urging holiday resorts in the islands to "keep a close eye on their guests", AFP reported. It is also identifying areas that are safer for tourists to swim and dive in the ocean.
Unlike resort islands, tourists who stay at guesthouses on the islands are often unaccompanied when they go into the water, according to the Maldives Times.
Tourism is critical for the Maldivian economy, contributing about a third of the gross domestic product - that was $3.5 billion in 2017, according to Reuters.
This isn't the first time cashed-up tourists have been warned about their safety in the holiday destination.
The Maldives has been struggling against the rise of Islamist radicalism, massive anti-government protests, and rising violence and crime.
But last year, the country was plunged into new chaos when then-president Abdulla Yameen was locked in an intense showdown with the country's Supreme Court, prompting his government to declare a two-week state of emergency.
The state of emergency gave the government sweeping powers to arrest and detain people, limits the powers of the courts and stops the president from being kicked out of office.
Police forces turned on protesters in Malé calling for Mr Yameen to be impeached as the country was plunged into chaos, prompting the Australian government to urge travellers to take caution in the Maldives. The governments of China, India, the UK and the US also told its citizens to stay away.
The country's current president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih claimed an upset victory over Mr Yameen in presidential elections, ending the former president's iron-fisted, five-year rule.
The Australian government advises travellers exercise normal safety precautions in the Maldives except for Male Island, where there is threat of civil unrest, terrorist attacks and drug-related crime. Australia does not have an embassy or consulate in the Maldives.