The Radio Scene in the Lonely Isolated Maldive Islands: The Island of Gan

Maldives. Map: Follow The Pin

The Maldive Islands are a lonely and isolated cluster of islands that lie towards the southern end of a very long series of underwater mountains on the western side of the Indian subcontinent. This island chain stretches for 1000 miles, from the Aminidivi Islands in the extreme north to the Chagos Islands in the extreme south.

According to some historians, that long line of three islandic countries on the west side of the Indian sub-continent were all classified anciently as one contiguous whole, and they were all originally identified collectively back then as Lakshadweep. These days however, three different political entities hold control of this lengthy cluster of sparsely separated islands and tropical atolls. Beginning at the north, thee three separate islandic units are identified as the Indian administered Lakshadweep Islands, then to the south the independent Maldive Islands, and then further south again to Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands that are in dispute between England and Mauritius.

In 2019 we covered the radio scene in Diego Garcia, and then in 2019 and 2020 we covered the Lakshadweep Islands, and so now it is the turn for the Maldive Islands in the middle.

Addu Atoll (which includes Gan Island), Maldives. Photos: CruiseMapper

Only occasionally do the Maldive Islands feature in international news. One major occasion was the Indonesian Tsunami in 2004 in which massive waves up to 14 feet high swelled up from the ocean and overspread most of the islands in that low level islandic country. A total of 39 islands were badly damaged, 14 were completely destroyed, and a few minor islands were completely washed away.

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Malé – the capital and most populous city in the Republic of Maldives.
Image: ESA European Space Agency.

The China Virus was first diagnosed in the Maldives on March 7 last year (2020) after an Italian tourist left a holiday resort island and returned to Europe. Four days later, several of the resort islands were closed down, and the resident visitors were required to remain in quarantine. However the Maldivian government provided extra funding for the tourists during their unexpectedly extended vacation.

Another international news event that occurred in the Maldive Islands was the plunging of the China Rocket into the Indian Ocean off the coast off the Maldive Islands earlier this month, on Saturday May 8 (2021). This huge 22 ton rocket crashed into the ocean so close to the Maldive Islands, a little southwest of the capital island Male, that the event was filmed and the explosive sound was recorded on camera.

The small islandic nation known as the Maldives lies about 450 miles southwest of India and Sri Lanka, and it is made up of 26 coral atolls with 1192 islands, 200 of which are inhabited. The total area of all of the islands is just 120 square miles, with a population around half a million. The capital city is Male Island, though nearby is a newly developed suburban city that is built on an artificial island created from sand that is dredged from the ocean floor.

Malé, capital of the Maldives. By Shahee Ilyas – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Due to global warming and the slowly rising ocean levels, many of the Maldive islands will one day be over-flooded. In 2008, the Maldivian government offered to buy land in Sri Lanka, or India, or Australia, or Africa and transfer their entire population to a new location. Instead though, they are now building new islands above the flood level within their own territory.

During WW2, the British began the construction of a highly secretive naval base at Gan Island in the south of the Maldive Islands. Identified only as Port T, this highly classified operation was intended as a back up, if the Singapore naval base were to fall to the Japanese, and if the Trincomalee naval base in Sri Lanka were to become vulnerable to Japanese attack.

The secretive Port T at Gan was open to both the British operated Royal Navy and Royal Air Force from 1941 – 1945. The radio communication station at Gan back then operated 8 shortwave transmitters (mostly lower powered as a security precaution) together with 8 shortwave receivers.

Gan Island International Airport, Addu Atoll, Maldives. Photo: All Travels Maldives

Eleven years later, in 1956, the British government received approval from the Maldivian government to reopen and rebuild their base on Gan Island as a permanent air force facility. This government approval also allowed for the construction of a large radio communication station on nearby Hittadu Island. This shortwave facility contained at least 7 transmitters: 2 Marconi @ 30 kW each, 1 Collins @ 30 kW, two Racal @ 7½ kW, and 1 @ 1 kW.

Seven years later in mid 1963, a small unofficial volunteer radio broadcasting station was installed at the RAF Base on Gan Addu Island. This low powered mediumwave station provided entertainment and information for the benefit of the British personnel in the area, and it escaped international attention throughout its entire eight year lifetime.

However in 1970, a regular British Forces Broadcasting Station BFBS was installed on Gan Island, with 250 watts on 1215 kHz. Three years later, the radio equipment was upgraded to 600 watts on 1560 kHz, and the station was then heard quite widely throughout the Indian Ocean areas.

During the three years period extending from 1971 – 1973, BFBS Gan was a joint operation between BFBS and the American AFRS radio system. However this unique radio broadcasting station was closed forever in 1976 when the entire RAF Base was closed and transferred to the Maldivian government. These days, the whole area is an international tourist location.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of May 30, 2021

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