by Zhu Ruiqing, Jamila Najmuddin
MALE, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- On a busy afternoon over the weekend, the Male International Airport in the Maldives was bustling with construction activities.
Workers near the construction site of the airport's new runway were busy carrying out their duties in order to complete the expansion project of the airport ahead of schedule.
"We are trying our best to ensure the project is completed ahead of time," a construction worker said. Alongside him, under the scorching heat, were several Chinese and local workers laying pipelines for the new runway.
This is the site of the Male Velana International Airport expansion project, which is being constructed with Chinese assistance.
The expansion and upgrading of the airport is one of the key projects under the framework of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.
The contract for the airport expansion, including the development of the fuel farm, a cargo terminal and a new runway, was signed between China and the Maldives in 2014. The project commenced in November 2016, and is expected to be completed in November 2019.
On Feb. 5, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency due to rising political unrest on the Indian Ocean island.
Zhang Fenglin, project manager of the airport expansion project from the Beijing Urban Construction Group Co. Ltd. (BUCG), said the construction work had not been badly affected by the state of emergency.
"For us, it is a race against time. Right now, the project has reached a crucial stage. We will try our best to ensure the project is completed ahead of time so that the Maldivian people and tourists can experience and use the new international airport earlier," said Zhang.
Due to the limited area of the Maldivian airport island, land reclamation was included in the project. Steel sheet piles are being used as fences around the new land to prevent sand loss.
"We have been working overtime these days. The construction site is relatively isolated and requires identification to enter or exit. So the state of emergency has not affected the project," local worker Ram told Xinhua.
"My Chinese colleagues and I will finish the concrete construction work of steel-sheet piling by the end of this month," said Ram.
Since the start of the project construction, Chinese enterprises have brought about sizable changes to the international airport at a rapid pace.
Due to the highly efficient cooperation with Chinese companies, last year the Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) decided to hand over the development of the Seaplane Facilities at the Maldives Velana International Airport to BUCG.
The ground-breaking ceremony of the New Seaplane Terminal has also been held recently.
Wei Binglu, deputy project manager of the Male International Seaplane Airport Expansion Project from the BUCG, was drenched in sweat due to the midday sun at the construction site.
"The MACL asked us to make our utmost efforts to complete the Seaplane Terminal Affiliated Hangar before August this year. Therefore, the project staff team have only been working with this goal in mind and will keep working overtime even during the Chinese New Year."
According to project manager Zhang, the state of emergency was announced suddenly but the project department had made contingency plans.
"All Chinese staff have been informed to avoid going to the capital of Male," he said.
Adil Moosa, managing director of MACL, said despite the state of emergency, the Maldivian people would not like to see a halt in the expansion and upgrading of the Male Velana International Airport.
The project is to promote economic development and enhance the Maldives' tourism industry. Presently, the project is progressing smoothly and the new airport is expected to be open to visitors as soon as possible, Adil added.