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Eggs recalled after banned pesticide found on poultry farms

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch food and product safety board NVWA has shut down seven poultry farms in the Netherlands after a banned pesticide was found in eggs.

Fipronil is used as an insecticide, particularly to kill fleas, and is classed as a ‘moderately hazardous pesticide’ by the World Health Organisation. The NVWA found traces of fipronil in eggs from four poultry farms and has launched a product recall.

Three other farms have been closed down as a precaution. The NVWA, which took the action after a tip-off from the Belgian authorities, said in a statement there is no danger to human health.

According to regional paper de Stentor, the contamination may have come from a pest control company in Gelderland which used the pesticide to deal with chicken lice. (DutchNews)

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Passenger tax - a tax on all their dreams

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - What the Caribbean region needs is so simple: rapid, reliable mobility at reasonable rates. What makes it so difficult? It is almost as short and simple to explain. There are two players; the aviation industry and the governments.

The aviation industry is not really the problem. They have the equipment and the crews.  They have fixed costs and calculate what is needed to make a profit.  One could argue about how cost-effective they are and what is considered a reasonable profit margin. And that’s it. Yet, one should also consider the entrepreneurial risks they are taking.

On the other side, you have the governments. For one, they have no risks in the aviation operation. Just benefits. Yet, they want a random tax contribution per passenger; no particular calculation. Mind that landing fees are different than taxes, and they do have a particular justification. So, what justifies the passenger tax? Inter-island or international, it doesn’t make a difference.

Major airlines are polite to governments. They listen politely when representatives of tourism or airport authorities are courting, or flirting, and trying to convince them to come on over. However, the operators don’t tell governments where to go; they just don’t put the destination on their schedule.

Except for one airline, or rather one airline boss, who is well-known for telling anyone where to go, or in clear text expressing ‘that they can shove it’. Ryanair decided in October last year that it would drop 16 routes and 600 jobs after an Italian government’s tax hike. It would also result in 800,000 client losses according to their calculations.

Their explanation: "Ryanair had no choice but to close two of its 15 Italian bases, and move its aircraft, pilots and crews to countries that have lower tourism costs. The tax increase will seriously damage Italian tourism, and it would hand a golden opportunity for growth to destinations in Spain, Portugal and Greece that have lower tourism costs.”

Governments love Low Cost Carriers because they lure tourists with low fares. Exactly for that reason, they believe that the LCC will bring the oh-so desired passengers by the masses. Yet, then they slam the air passenger duty on top of the fares, to the extent that those are nearly double. Does that make sense? So, before the passengers don’t show up and seats remain empty, the airline doesn’t open a route or terminates it. That does make entrepreneurial sense!

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return," according to a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Anyone who is less than a genius may tell you that when the taste of flight fare turns from sweet to bitter, he will not turn his eyes skyward in all directions anymore.

Governments can argue until they turn blue or green why a passenger tax is needed or why they believe it is justified. They may even feel proud and protzy when they believe that they won the argument.  However, the tourists have the last word in determining what price is acceptable for their vacation budget.

Monies that had to work and save a whole year, to make their dream retreat come true. Taxes are not a dream incentive; they are a repellent. For tourists, there are plenty of options near and far in the geography, where the temperatures are warm, the platinum beaches are lined with palm trees, and where they are received with open arms. Governments can try to have it their way; but tourists for sure will find it their way…., somewhere else.

By Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

Cdr. Bud Slabbaert is the organizer of the annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference. He has an extensive background in aviation and business development as well as in related journalism. 

COMMENTARY: The comments are the sole responsibility of the author. 

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First half of 2017 ranks 2nd hottest globally, behind 2016

SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN - The first half of 2017 was the second warmest on record for Earth, only behind last year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday Earth’s average temperature from January to June was 57.9 degrees (14.4 degrees Celsius). That’s 1.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

Natural El Niños spike global temperatures. But NOAA climate scientist Ahira Sánchez-Lugo says it is remarkable that 2017 without an El Niño so far beats all but the super El Niño year of 2016.

She says that’s the world changing into an ever-warming climate.

Record warmth was measured in much of Mexico, Western Europe, eastern Russia, eastern Africa and eastern China. The U.S. had its second warmest start.

Globally, June was the third warmest on record. Records go back to 1880. (AP, By Seth Borenstein)

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US says ban on laptops in airplane cabins has been lifted, Airports have to increase security

SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN — The ban on laptops in the cabins of planes flying from the Middle East to the U.S. is over, as federal officials say that large airports in the region have taken other steps to increase security.

Those measures include checking electronic devices to make sure they don’t contain a bomb, and pulling more people out of airport lines for additional screening.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday that all airlines and airports with flights departing for the U.S. had met the agency’s first phase of new security measures, which were announced in late June but not described in any detail.

In March, the U.S. imposed a ban on laptops in the cabins of planes coming into the country from 10 Middle Eastern airports. This week, King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was the last of the 10 to comply with U.S. security measures and exit the laptop-ban list.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the laptop ban was a “pause,” a stopgap measure until airports could make other security improvements. It grew from fear that terrorists were working on bombs that can be hidden in devices such as laptop and tablet computers.

“We tested it on a real airplane on the ground, pressurized (as an airliner is during flight), and to say the least it destroyed the airplane,” Kelly said Wednesday at a security conference in Colorado. He added that intelligence reports indicated terrorists lacked the ability to detonate such a bomb remotely — meaning they couldn’t trigger a bomb in the cargo hold while sitting in the cabin.

Some safety experts cautioned, however, that putting devices with lithium ion batteries that are prone to overheating in cargo increased the risk of fire.

Now the Federal Aviation Administration is telling airlines that that devices with lithium batteries should be put in carry-on baggage and not placed in checked luggage — the advice that existed before the March order covering large electronics devices in the cabin.

Kelly said most of the new security measures will not be visible to passengers. He said, however, that there will be additional testing of devices — to make sure they are working computers and not a disguised bomb — and more people will be pulled aside for extra screening. He did not say how agents will decide who gets pulled aside. (By The Associated Press, David Koenig)

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Amsterdam to boost social housing sector, 40% of new homes rent controlled

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam city council has decided that 40% of new homes built within the city’s boundaries must fall under social housing rules, meaning the rent can be no more than €710 a month.

A further 40% must target middle income households with rents of around €850 per month or be affordable to middle income home buyers, councillors decided on Wednesday evening.

The remaining properties will target high earners. Currently just 30% of new homes must be social housing and there are no restrictions on the rest. ‘If we leave it to the market, people with a low or moderate income will no longer be able to live in Amsterdam,’ Laurens Ivens, the city’s housing alderman and a member of the Socialist party, said earlier.

The city council hopes the plan will make it possible for more teachers, police officers and other people in professions with moderate pay to make the capital their home.

Research shows that some 80% of new owner-occupier properties within the A10 ring road cost more than €400,000, while rents of €1,500 for a one-bedroom flat have become the norm.

House prices in the capital have soared by 20% in the past year. However, the plan, which was not supported by city coalition partner D66, has been criticised by building companies.

‘Over the past few years, Amsterdam has tried to boost the number of owner-occupied properties,’ Taco van Hoek, of the building sector economic institute EIB told the Parool.

‘To some extent this has helped, but nevertheless, just 30% of the city’s homes are owner occupied, compared with 60% in the country at large.’ (DutchNews)

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Dementia remains biggest cause of death but simple falls are often fatal too

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dementia remains the biggest cause of death in the Netherlands but the number of people dying after a fall has risen 16% in the past year, the national statistics office CBS said on Wednesday.

One in 10 deaths last year was due to dementia, with twice as many women dying of the disease than men, the CBS said. Lung cancer was number two on the list, accounting for over 10,000 deaths, followed by a stroke, heart failure and COPD.

Strokes were the second biggest cause of death among women. The sharpest increase – 16% – was among people dying after a fall. In total, 3,300 people died after suffering complications from a fall.

Geriatric medicine specialist Christiaan Oudshoorn told the AD that most falls happen at home and more can be done to stop them. ‘The elderly are living at home longer and measures need to be taken [to enable this].

This is something we often forget,’ he said. These include better lighting, low thresholds and a chair lift to go upstairs, he said. In addition, the elderly are remaining active longer, he said.

‘They play tennis, ride e-bikes and travel. This is all well and good, but such activities at an advanced age also carry risks,’ he said. The CBS said the reason more women die of dementia and after a fall than men may be due to the fact that they tend to live longer. (DutchNews)

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Fewer fatal industrial accidents but building workers remain most vulnerable

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – In total, 31 people are known to have died in accidents at work in the first six months of this year, down from 42 in the 2016 first-half, the Telegraaf said on Tuesday, quoting employment ministry inspectors.

Of them, seven were employed in the construction sector, making building workers the most vulnerable to a fatal industrial accident. Farm workers accounted for the next highest number of deaths, the paper said.

The FNV trade union last year opened a hotline for construction workers to report unsafe practices and more than 100 complaints have so far been made. ‘In particular, there are a lot of problems in the scaffolding sector, and that is leading to unsafe situations,’ FNV union official Willem Dijkhuizen told the Telegraaf. (DutchNews)

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Three years on, a memorial to the MH17 victims is opened near Amsterdam

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – King Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima on Monday joined politicians and relatives at the unveiling of a memorial to the victims of flight MH17, which was downed by a missile over Ukraine three years ago to the day.

The Malaysia Airlines plane was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down, killing all 298 people on board. Most of the victims were Dutch. Some 2,000 relatives of those who died attended the closed ceremony in Vijfhuizen, where the monument – a steel upward-looking eye 16 metres wide – was unveiled.

The sculpture is surrounded by a ribbon wood made up of 298 trees, each with a plaque containing the name of one of the victims, representing growth, hope and life. Monument designer Ronald Westerhuis told broadcaster NOS that to him, steel represents sadness.

‘If it rains you see the tracks of the water,’ he said. ‘And steel is transient, it rusts. And I hope that the sadness is transient as well.’ Earlier this month, it emerged that people suspected of shooting down the flight in 2014 can be prosecuted in the Netherlands, under Dutch law.

This decision was taken by the five countries that make up the Joint Investigation Team which is carrying out the ongoing criminal investigation. It rejected the idea of setting up an international court because the laws of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and The Netherlands are so different, while a posited United Nations tribunal was blocked two years ago by Russia.

The JIT’s preliminary investigations concluded that it was shot down from Ukrainian farmland by a BUK missile ‘controlled by pro-Russian fighters’. Although there are suspects, nobody has yet been charged and there are doubts about whether it would be possible to extradite anybody from Ukraine or Russia against their will.

Demonstration

On Sunday, 15 relatives of the victims held a silent demonstration outside the Russian embassy in The Hague to protest against ‘Russia’s obstruction of the investigation’. The demonstrators called on Russia to honour the international agreements and cooperate fully with the investigation. In the park in front of the embassy, the demonstrators placed a bench with a plaque reading: ‘Waiting for responsibility and complete clarity. In memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17’. Part of the text is in Russian. (DutchNews)

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History of the concrete road divider at MAHO BEACH

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - Firstly, my deepest condolences to the family of the lady that tragically lost her life last week attempting to “surf the jet blast”. It is hoped that their loss will serve as a reminder to all who HAVE ventured and to those who undoubtedly WILL venture to participate in this dangerous “sport”, that this can be deadly! Standing on the actual beach sand West of the road according to me, will give you the same “rush” and if you get ”blown”, you will fall on sand. In a worst case scenario, you may get blown into the Caribbean Sea. So all you Jet Blast Surfers that cannot swim, WEAR A WATER LIFE JACKET before attempting the jet blast thrill.

I am not a lawyer (obviously) and certainly not an “ambulance chaser”, but for the life of me I can not understand how anybody else except the adult that engages in the “sport “ is responsible for such an accident, taking into consideration all the signs and precautions put in place by the SXM Airport PJIA. Laws should be anchored in our legal framework, but must also be based on common sense, you would think. Lawyer Kock argues for the removal of concrete blocks that divide the road at the location.

This divider was placed on that road back in 2000 when on my request, the then Executive Council of which I was a member at that time, approved a workable and simple plan to prevent selfish airplane/sunset gazers to park on that road, reducing the ONLY access in and out of the busy Beacon Hill community down to a one lane stretch, causing massive traffic jams and creating serious hazards to landing aircraft, as well as for the inhabitants of Beacon Hill in case of a medical emergency, fire or other calamity.

The divider worked and traffic on that piece of road has since then flowed reasonably well, except for when the occasional Taxi Driver “trolls” the stretch for passengers they hope need to “go back to their cruise ships”. So a divider there is a MUST. Now of course, I can agree with maybe replacing the concrete divider with say, plastic tubes fitted on rubber bases that cause a division between the 2 sides of the road, but are flexible to move when something or someone slams into them.

However, knowing how things often work on our beloved island, I guarantee you that such plastic dividing posts will be broken off in less than 6 months (not all at once), but just like the short white ones on the side of the Route National from the Cole Bay border to St. James, they will disappear, causing the pre-2000 traffic jams in and out of Beacon Hill to resume with greater vigor!

My suggestion for the problem: Let's consider re-routing all the traffic in and out of Beacon Hill along the South fence of the airport, up past Mary’s Boon Hotel and unto the Airport Road; then extending the East West airport fences (both sides of the airport property)all the way to the beach edge West of the present road leading to The ALEGRIA front gate. Allowing for foot traffic on the entire beach, the Jet Blast Surfers will still be able to hold on to the fence, but this fence will now be on the Western side of the present road, and those “blown” will end up on sand or in the sea (hopefully with a life jacket on).

Alternatively, before we consider any other tunnel (with all due respect to our Prime Minister’s plan), let’s find the funds to build the most simple viaduct (á la Montserrat new airport access road) and channel regular vehicular traffic under ground, plane/sunset gazers onto the beach on foot and fence off the present Beacon Hill Road with a locked gate on either side (North and South), so emergency vehicles can still get in and out of Beacon Hill if need be.

One thing for sure, the spectacular SXM AIRPORT landings are greatly contributing to our Tourism product and THAT show SHOULD go on, albeit that we have a collective responsibility as Government and Private Sector to do all we can to protect us from us.

Michael J. Ferrier

COMMENTARY: The comments made here are the sole responsibility of the author.

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No bridge: minister wants tunnel to the north

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Caretaker infrastructure Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen is maintaining her preference for bicycle and pedestrian tunnels linking Amsterdam with its northern flank, she said in a letter to the city council made public on Thursday.

Schultz objects to the bridge links over the IJ waterway which are favoured by the council. Amsterdam municipality is scheduled to debate ‘the jump to the north’ next week, the Parool has reported.

The chief drawback to the bridge proposals is that they will have to be at least 11 metres above water level to permit unhindered passage of shipping in the busy IJ. And that means a lot of work for cyclists who are more used to the flat.

‘This is welcome news to fans of the Ventoux mountain race,’ Schultz said. Separately, the council has approved a further feasibility study for a cable car link between the city centre and the north, the Parool has revealed.

Wim Wessels, who is designing the plan, said it will not be a ski-lift sort of project nor a tourist attraction but a real transport link similar to existing cable car schemes in London, Koblenz and Caracas. (DutchNews)

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