Sri Lankan on suspected Diego Garcia expedition freed by Maldives

ECONOMYNEXT – A Sri Lankan who was on board a boat suspected to have been on a failed expedition to a remote Indian Ocean island which housed a US military base has been freed, a media report said.

AFP, a news agency, said the Sri Lankan was among seven foreigners who were detained by authorities in the Maldives after their ocean going fishing vessel was escorted back to the atolls after being suspected of trying to reach Diego Garcia.

The United States maintain a military based in Diego Garcia, a part of the British Indian Ocean Territory of Chagos Islands.

Expedition leader Giorgio Rosi Belliere was quoted as saying they wanted to travel to Peros Banhos, another island in the group, but they abandoned the plan and was instead going whale watching when they were intercepted by a Maldives coastguard helicopter.

"When we knew we could not go to Peros Banhos, we cancelled those plans," Belliere was quoted as saying by AFP.

"We tried to explain that we were not heading for Diego Garcia, but a coastguard helicopter ordered us back anyway."

Haveeru, a Maldives based publication quoted officials as saying that over 5000 litres of diesel was found on board the vessel.

Belliere said he had been arranging sea safaris in the Maldives since 1988 and his guests were high-spending adventure seekers. He insisted that they had not violated any local laws.

Belliere, said his group was made up of three Americans, a Canadian, a Hungarian and their Sri Lankan chef.

Many Sri Lankans work in the Maldives tourist industry and Sri Lankan firms are among the biggest foreign hotel operators in the archipelago.

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