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Lessons for Africa from devastating Mauritius oil spill

The shipwreck of the MV Wakashio has caused one of Mauritiuss worst environmental catastrophes and i..

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The shipwreck of the MV Wakashio has caused one of Mauritiuss worst environmental catastrophes and its devastating impact is expected to last for decades. Over 1 000 tonnes of fuel oil leaked into pristine Mauritian waters, covering the nearby shore in toxic sludge and immersing the ecosystem in a desperate struggle for survival.

This environmental crisis couldnt have occurred at a worse time for Mauritius. The spill will seriously impede the recovery of a Mauritian economy highly dependent on coastal tourism and already battered by COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Mauritius and other African states need to promptly review their contingency strategies and response capacities so we can start positing immediate lessons to be learnt.

The national and international response to the MV Wakashio crisis was commendable. France, India, Japan and the International Maritime Organization cooperated to support local Mauritian efforts in a race against time to pump out the fuel from the vessel, which eventually broke apart on 15 August. Meanwhile local volunteers flocked to the shore with improvised booms and barriers.

Mauritius and other African states need to urgently review their contingency strategies

While a full investigation and report is urgently required, it is possible to start piecing together a narrative of what has occurred and how it turned so bad so quickly.

The MV Wakashio left China on 14 July heading for Brazil. On 25 July it ran aground on the reefs located roughly a mile off Pointe dEsny and the Blue Bay Marine Park along the south-eastern shore of Mauritius. No oil leakage was reported at the time, and the Mauritius coast guard swiftly deployed booms and took other preventive actions. The government activated its National Oil Spill Contingency Plan the following day.

By 5 August a minor oil slick was observed surrounding the vessel. It was still assumed that the countrys contingency plan was sufficient and that the risk of oil spill was still low. But then the MV Wakashio flooded and began sinking. Oil started to spill into the sea.

On 7 August Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a national environment emergency. Fisheries Minister Sudheer Maudhoo suggested that this is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem. Mauritius called for international help once the scale of the emergency became apparent and quickly overwhelmed the resources and capacity of the countrys national contingency plan.

The disaster demonstrates how even seemingly small oil leaks and spills can be devastating

Some of these resources were acquired as part of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Highway Development and Coastal and Marine Contamination Prevention project from 2007-2012. The project also called for the establishment of the Regional Marine Pollution Co-ordination Centre (RCC) for Marine Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Western Indian Ocean.

South Africa will host the RCC, and its establishment must now be expedited. The disaster demonstrates how even seemingly small oil leaks and spills can be devastating, especially when they occur in sensitive and critically important environmental areas.

Will other African countries and regional organisations develop sufficient capacity to respond to crises on the scale of the MV Wakashio without depending on international assistance? There is a great risk of oil spills and leaks occurring elsewhere in the African maritime domain in the future, especially spills that occur during bunkering.

The Cape of Good Hope route is a maritime super highway. Some countries, like South Africa, are able to swiftly respond on their own, as demonstrated in May when the potential wreck of the Yuan Hua Hu, also carrying 4 000 tonnes of fuel oil, was narrowly averted.

Theres a great risk of oil spills occurring elsewhere in Africa, especially during bunkering

Many countries such as Mauritius lack at least some of the resources or capacities needed to deal with such a disaster. Governments require up-to-date assessments to plan future responses. Better and more collective resources and skills at a regional or continental level are required.

Improved accountability mechanisms are also important. The Japanese owners of the MV Wakashio have offered, under international obligations, to pay compensation for applicable damages caused by the oil spill. Yet in other cases it might not be as easy to track the owners and determine liability (as can be seen in the investigation into the tragic Beirut port explosion of 4 August).

It is time for African maritime institutions to review their approaches and develop appropriate expertise and response mechanisms. This should ensure fast and effective regional or continental action when the inevitable oil leaks arise.

The results should be reported to key multilateral organisations – ideally to the African Union (AU) – as part of the implementation of 2050 Africas Integrated Maritime Strategy. The AU could, for instance, convene a consultative forum for experience and skills sharing with inputs from all the regional economic communities such as that hosted by the Southern African Development Community in 2018.

Disaster relief is expensive, but is nowhere near as controversial as other maritime issues such as creating security frameworks and determining boundaries. It can also foster collaboration anchored in regional AU institutions that draw on indigenous expertise and capacities.

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Spain locates Christopher Columbus’ first tomb

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It has long been known that Columbus was buried in Valladolid after his death there in 1506 but the exact location of his tomb was not known until now.

Three years later his remains were taken to his family mausoleum in the southern city of Seville, and were moved several more times over the following centuries before returning to Seville in 1898.

Using DNA samples from bone slivers taken from the Seville tomb, a forensics team led by the University of Granada confirmed in 2005 that the remains kept there did in fact belong to Columbus.

Researchers have now determined that he was first buried in the San Francisco convent in Valladolid which no longer exists, Spain’s Naval Museum, which helped coordinate the study, said in statement.

The site is currently a commercial zone near the spacious Plaza Mayor, a broad, pedestrianised expanse surrounded by arcaded buildings painted red.

This conclusion follows “a detailed historical investigation, confirmed by ground-penetrating radars,” the statement added.

Researchers took samples of elements from the Seville burial sport — lead, brick, golden threads — and found they matched with the location of the spot in Valladolid which was excavated, it added.

Historians and archeologists have since recreated in 3D the dimensions the chapel in Valladolid that housed the remains of Columbus.

In 1544 his remains were moved from Seville to Santo Domingo, which is the capital of the Dominican Republic, in accordance with the instructions he had left behind.

In 1795 his bones were moved to Havana before being shipped back across the Atlantic and returned to Seville in 1898.

The Dominican Republic claims Columbus is buried at an ornate lighthouse in Santo Domingo.

The teams behind the 2005 DNA study said that while they are convinced the bones in Seville are from Columbus, the tomb in Santo Domingo might also hold part of his remains.

Columbus, long hailed by school textbooks as the so-called discoverer of “The New World,” is considered by many to have spurred years of genocide against indigenous groups in the Americas.

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Spain’s Infanta Cristina and Iñaki Urdangarin announce ‘interruption of marriage’

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The sister of Spain’s King Felipe VI, Cristina de Borbón, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin have decided to “interrupt” their marriage, according to a press release published Monday by Spanish news agency EFE.

“By mutual consent, we have decided to interrupt our marital relationship. Our commitment to our children remains intact. Given this is a private decision, we ask for utmost respect for everyone around us,” the document stated.

The former Olympic handball champion was sentenced to prison in 2018 in connection with a financial crimes scandal known as the Nóos case, and the Infanta – a title Cristina bears for being the daughter of a king – was questioned in court over the matter, although she was later cleared of all criminal charges. Urdangarin has since been moved to an open regime and only reports to prison once a week.

The public announcement comes after Urdangarin was photographed holding hands with another woman last week in Bidart in southwestern France. When asked about his relationship to the woman in question, Ainhoa Armentia, a 43-year-old from the Basque city of Vitoria, Urdangarin replied: “These things happen.”

The relationship between Cristina de Borbón and Iñaki Urdangarin officially began in 1996 at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, where Urdangarin was competing as a member of the Spanish handball team. One year later, they married in a church in Barcelona in a ceremony attended by 1,500 guests. The couple have four children together.

In June 2018, Urdangarin was sentenced by the Supreme Court to six years and three months in prison for his involvement in the Nóos case. He was found guilty of tax fraud, embezzlement and influence peddling, and entered prison on June 18, 2018. He has served five years and 10 months at Brieva penitentiary, and is now allowed to serve out the remainder from home.

Last year, the former Duke of Palma – who was stripped of his title following the scandal – was granted permission to move to a more flexible prison regime, meaning he could serve the remaining 11 months of his sentence from home. Under this regime, Urdangarin does not need to wear an electronic bracelet that tracks his movement, and is only subject to weekly in-person meetings and phone check-ins. Since then, he has been living in Vitoria with his mother, Claire Liebaert, who is in poor health.

The new regime also allowed Urdangarin to start working at the accounting firm Imaz & Associates, which has a good relationship with his family. But the frequency in which the former duke was seen in the streets during working hours – under the pretext that he was teleworking – prompted prison authorities to recommend he work in the office in person. There he met Armentia, a married woman whose marriage was not going well, but who continued living in the same apartment as her husband.

Since the photograph was taken last Wednesday, a scrum of photographers and reporters have been waiting long hours outside the accountancy firm to get a statement from Urdangarin and Armentia. According to sources close to the owner of Imaz & Associates, the media attention has made the director question his decision to hire the former duke, which he did as a personal favor to his family. The media attention has also surprised Armentia, who until a few days ago was just an anonymous accountant with two young children.

According to sources close to the Royal Household, news of Urdangarin’s relationship with Armentia also caught Cristina de Borbón off guard.

In June 2015, Felipe VI stripped his sister of the title of Duchess of Palma after the latter repeatedly refused to give up her hypothetical rights to the throne (she is sixth in line of succession). The decision was made a week after the first anniversary of Felipe’s reign, as the monarchy was going through an institutional crisis derived partly from the Nóos scandal.

After Felipe’s father Juan Carlos I abdicated the throne in 2014, the Royal Household announced that membership in the royal family was being reduced to include just Felipe and Queen Letizia, their daughters Leonor and Sofía and Felipe’s parents Juan Carlos I and Doña Sofía. Felipe’s sisters, the infantas Elena and Cristina, were excluded from this group and do not receive any allowances from the Spanish budget.

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Swiss company helps recycle Morocco’s organic waste

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africanews– In Morocco, a Swiss company is helping to process organic waste.

EV or Green Elephant has an annual turnover of 40,000 tonnes of compost and organic fertiliser.

In Morocco, nearly 80% of household waste is organic compared to less than 30% in Europe.

“Our sector of activity is the recovery of agricultural by-products through an industrial process called composting. There are different raw materials of vegetable and animal origin that are mixed together, with well-defined ratios”, says Mohamed El Kabous, EV production manager.

The organic waste is processed and replaces chemical fertilisers improving sustainability.

Traditionally, in Morocco, most household waste is buried.

According to official data, 66 illegal dumps have been rehabilitated so far.

“All our products are organic and can be used in organic farming to replace some of the chemical fertilisers that kill the soil, and also to participate and offer customers a healthy and sustainable agriculture” promises EV’s production manager.

According to the Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, in 2015 only 6% of household waste was recycled.

A national waste programme whose objective was to reach a recycling rate of 20% by 2022 was pushed back to 2030.

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