by Tang Lu, Jamila Najimuddin
MALE, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) — The China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, the first cross-sea bridge in the Maldives built by a Chinese company, has started a new life for the Maldivians.
The 2-km bridge, inaugurated on Aug. 30 last year, links the Maldivian capital of Male with neighboring island Hulhule, where the island nation’s only international airport is located.
The bridge, an iconic project of the Maldives and China in co-building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, makes it possible for locals and tourists travel between the two islands within five minutes.
On the first anniversary of the bridge’s inauguration, the Maldivians sang and danced on the bridge as it opened a new chapter for the Maldives.
For years, Maldivians have relied on ferries as their means of transport between the atolls in the Indian Ocean.
The Chinese-built bridge has not only brought convenience to the life of the Maldivians, but also offered new business opportunities and new jobs to many residents living in Hulhumale, a reclaimed island developed for housing complex northeast of Hulhule and Male.
A Maldivian man, who lives in Hulhumale but works in Male, told Xinhua that it seemed like Male, Hulhule and Hulhumale had been linked by the bridge as a city.
The opening of the bridge has also increased economic vitality as the auto repair industry is prospering in Hulhumale. In front of a blue-and-red building parked a dozen of vehicles waiting to be repaired.
Auto repair shop owner Hassan Hakeem said that due to traffic restrictions, the car repair industry had not developed in the Maldives.
“We firmly believe the opening of the bridge will bring us more business,” Hakeem said.
“In the past, all of our auto repair shops in the Maldives imported a total of 300 or 400 tires every three months, but now Hulhumale alone needs to import more than 1,400 tires a month.”
There are many famous cafes and restaurants in Hulhumale. Due to inconvenient traffic in the past, only the weekends or major holidays see some guests coming from Male. After the bridge was opened to traffic, the cross-island takeaway service has become a standard service for many food and beverage outlets.
Jelly Pizza has several chain stores in Male, and its cross-island takeaway business store is located in a secluded alley, with couriers and four or five delivery motorcycles on standby.
Courier employee Jahanjir just got a single business to send the pizza to a customer who lives in Hulhumale within 30 minutes. “I have to travel back and forth several times a day on the bridge because there are at least three or four trips to Hulhumale every day,” he said.
Maisha, who is in charge of finance in the Pizza store, said, “Our customers mainly live in Male. Now there is a bridge. Customers who live in Hulhumale also place their orders now. We are preparing to open a branch in Hulhumale.”
The bridge has also generated new job opportunities to the Maldivians.
There were no traffic lights and few traffic police in Male. At present, traffic lights have been installed at both ends of the bridge with bridge traffic police.
Female traffic police officer Aleena has been working on the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge for eight months. She said, “When I first started on the bridge, I felt that many young people didn’t pay much attention to traffic lights. Now they are very disciplined.”
Yoosuf Rafeeu, who was a taxi driver, became a double-decker bus driver after the Maldivian government opened the Greater Male Bus Terminal (GMBT) last year.
“There are 23 buses in the GMBT, eight of which are double-decker buses. I am proud to be a rare double-decker bus driver in the Maldives,” he said.
Bridge engineer Mohamed Shafeeu studied civil engineering in Malaysia and worked in the ports and terminals of the Maldives. In 2017, he joined the government department and was responsible for the quality management of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge.
“Compared with the port and dock projects, the construction of this bridge is more difficult. The engineers in China are very dedicated, and their hard work allows us to enjoy a happy cross-island life,” he said.
(The featured aerial view of the China-Maldives Friend Bridge was photographed by Wang Mingliang/Xinhua)