Company helps Maldives fishing industry grow

A Dunedin architecture firm’s involvement in a Maldives fishing project worth around $40m ($61m NZ) continues a decades-long association with the nation islander.

Oakley Gray Architects director Norman Oakley jokes that he’s learned more about the mechanics of freezing and canning tuna than he ever imagined – a subject certainly not taught at school. ‘School of Architecture.

Mr Oakley believed that when completed, it could be the largest industrial project undertaken in the Maldives, a nation of 1,192 Indian Ocean islands that stretches across the equator.

The company’s long-established involvement with the nation originally stemmed from a New Zealand aid project involving Mr Oakley’s late father, Bob, in Sumatra in the 1970s.

He put together a small team, which included fishing businessman and former Mayor of Dunedin, Sir Cliff Skeggs, and they carried out a small fish cold storage project.

This led to other opportunities, including the start of a long relationship with the Maldives.

The first project was on Felvaru, the island where Oakley Gray’s current project is located. The island is dedicated solely to fishing.

While tourism was the country’s main source of export income, Mr Oakley said fishing was a bit like pastoral farming in New Zealand – “culturally rooted”.

A crew would go fishing in the morning armed with a long stick—”like a kid”—attached to a string and a barbless hook. They would find a school of tuna and hook them to the boat passing the fish over their heads.

An experienced crew could catch 3 tons or more per day. But being on the equator it was necessary to chill the fish, and until there were facilities for this the fish was either eaten locally or dried for export.

So a cannery was built, and there was a World Bank funded project to build a cold store and an ice factory. This was the genesis of further development – tuna canning began and ice factories were built all over the country.

Norman Oakley joined the company in 1986 and was involved in a project at Kooddoo in the 1990s where a port and fish freezing plant was built.

Before that it was an uninhabited island and when Mr Oakley showed up to do the initial survey work it took three days by boat to get there. For the young architect, it was a great experience, he recalls.

After that, there were a few other projects, but the last serious work the company did there was in 2005. Busy in Otago and Southland, it hadn’t pursued anything there, he said. declared.

That was until the company was approached by state-owned Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO) in 2020 to see if they would be interested in another project.

The company was now involved in two projects on Felivaru: the construction of 4,000 tonnes of cold storage and a new cannery to process 100 tonnes per day, double the current capacity of the factory. To do this, more space was needed, so there was an infill project to deepen the harbor and provide a building platform.

MIFCO had received development funding from the Export Import Bank of India; one of the conditions of the funding was that Indian construction contractors had to be used and they had been “a little problematic” to find.

The project coincided with Covid-19 and while the team would normally have “hopped on a plane” and headed to the Maldives, Mr Oakley said all the work had been done remotely so far. He would go there at some point.

There was potential for further work as additional funding had been secured from the Saudi government for other refrigeration projects and the company had been asked if they would be interested.

Generally, Oakley Gray has done publicly funded work, much of it in education, including schools and college, and for the Southern District Health Board and residential care facilities. the elderly.

Mr Oakley, who previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s New Zealand aid program in Kiribati, Samoa and the Cook Islands, said the Maldives was a fascinating place and the people were great .

“It’s about building something that’s what we love to do and it’s on scale and it’s a place I’ve had a connection with for over 30 years. I just want to get it built .”

“It’s been fascinating to me over the years. It changes classrooms,” he said.

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Michael J. Chiaramonte