Blue whale washes ashore in tsunami-hit Maldivian beach

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Posted by on January 10, 2005 at 16:14:42:

FULL MOON, Maldives (AFP) - A blue whale has washed ashore at a deluxe tourist resort island in the Maldives, complicating the nation's struggle to clean its formerly pristine beaches in the wake of the tsunami disaster.

The National Security Service (NSS) deployed 30 men to remove the carcass of the 70-foot-long whale that turned up on the five-star Full Moon island resort, 15 minutes by speedboat from the capital island Male.

"We are trying to get down a tug boat to pull the carcass to another island where we can bury it and hope to get the bones later," NSS officer Abdul Ghanee said as frogmen struggled with the remains of the giant creature on Friday.

Ghanee said whale sightings were rare and he could not be sure if the whale had died during or before the December 26 tsunami. "It is possible it died before and the tsunami waves brought it here."

The huge clean up operation got underway at this upmarket resort which was under several feet of water in the sea surge that devastated most of its "water bungalows", or self-contained luxury cabanas built on stilts.

In the 156-room hotel, which was the venue for a one-day retreat of South Asian leaders in 1997, there were less that 15 tourists Friday. All 52 water bungalows have been closed after they were flooded.

The dead whale added to the woes of the staff engaged in cleaning up the tsunami mess.

Defence Minister Ismail Shafeeu said Thursday that the spread of disease from decomposed corpses which could be brought to the shorelines of the tiny Indian Ocean paradise was a serious concern.

"There had been two or three bodies (of people) washed ashore, but we can't be sure if they are of our own people or not," Shafeeu told AFP here. "The currents move in such a way that people washed into the sea in other countries could end up here."

He said those bodies, possibly caused by the tsunamis that struck 11 Indian Ocean nations leaving a trail of destruction and killing more than 150,000 people, were too badly decomposed for identification.

In the Maldives itself, at least 82 people were killed and another 26 are still missing. Six foreign nationals were among those killed in the Maldives which has emerged as South Asia's most expensive tourist destination.

The damage to the Maldives, a cluster of 1,192 low-lying islands scattered some 850 kilometers (550 miles) across the equator, has been officially estimated at 4.8 billion dollars.

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