News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
In association with
Week June 26nd to July 2nd 2003.
SUMMER AIR TRAVEL THREAT
Spanish controllers plan 15 days of stoppages over three months
By Dave Jamieson
AIR TRAVELLERS FLYING IN AND OUT OF MÁLAGA AIRPORT HAVE BEEN WARNED TO EXPECT DISRUPTION TO FLIGHTS ON KEY DATES THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER.
Spain's Air Traffic Controllers Union (USCA) has threatened a series of stoppages during July, August and September, in a move that has caused dismay in a tourism sector only just recovering from a bad winter. Although as yet unconfirmed officially, it is feared that USCA, which counts 95 per cent of the country's 1,800 controllers as members, will go ahead with stoppages in protest of the Law of Air Security presently being debated in the Senate. The union's secretary general, Rafael Cruz, described the proposed legislation as "talking little of air security and much of the responsibility of civil aviation."
The first of 15 dates earmarked for stoppages is next Tuesday, July 1. The complete list of targeted dates includes July 1, 7, 15, 23 and 31, August 1, 7, 15, 23 and 31, and September 1, 7, 15, 23 and 30 - all key dates during tourism's most important three months of the year. First reactions to the announcement from the tourism sector were heated. Miguel Sánchez, president of the hoteliers' association Aehcos, said it was the same story every year and called the threat "barbaric." Joaquín Fernández, the vice-president of the provincial association of travel agents in Málaga, Aedav, forecast that the impact would be enormous, producing a rash of delays and cancellations. Spokesmen for a number of tourism-related associations and organisations have urged the trades union to think again and for both sides to engage in a dialogue that could lead to the lifting of the threat.
Meanwhile, chaos reigned at Málaga airport last Saturday, but on this occasion through no fault of the air traffic controllers. On one of the busiest days of the summer so far, the electronic display boards and monitors failed completely, resulting in passengers not knowing when flights were boarding or which gate to go to. As matters deteriorated and the departure lounge filled, the public address system could not be heard above the noise of irritated passengers. Flights had to be delayed because, although ready to depart, they remained mostly empty as travellers failed to find their boarding gates on time.
THE BRITISH CONNECTION
Eight Britons arrested in three separate drug busts
By David Eade
BRITISH CITIZENS HAVE BEEN ARRESTED FOR DRUG TRAFFICKING IN THREE SEPARATE LAW-ENFORCEMENT OPERATIONS.
In one operation, National Police forces found 1,300 kilos of hashish hidden in jars of olives in a Marbella warehouse. The discovery was made by Nerón, a rottweiler trained to sniff out drugs. The illegal cargo was destined for delivery to the UK.
In a joint operation, police from Madrid and Marbella discovered that the hashish was being purchased in Morocco, then stored in Marbella, where it was packaged as olives before being forwarded to Madrid for future shipment to Britain. The investigation led to the arrest of Britons Ciaran S., Simon H. and Bernard C., along with Humberto C.
The second raid took place at a warehouse in the Martín Méndez industrial estate in Estepona. According to police, a gang of British drug-runners was using the site due to its proximity to the motorway and to the local beach where the drugs were landed in bales. The gang used hollowed-out wooden beams to transport the drugs to the UK. Police found 1,200 kilos of hashish at the site, along with a sufficient number of prepared beams to transport the cargo. They arrested three Britons, one a 16-year-old minor.
Finally, Customs agents in Gibraltar seized the yacht Perkeo after acting on information supplied by the Guardia Civil in Alicante. The Gibraltar-registered 16.5-metre-yacht was en route from the Azores to the port of Alicante when it was intercepted by Customs after docking in Gibraltar's marina.
Officers assisted by sniffer dogs and divers discovered 550 kilos of cocaine on board the yacht. The drugs were hidden in two hermetically sealed compartments designed to prevent detection by dogs.
Police arrested the two-man crew of the yacht, a Slovakian and a Spaniard. They also arrested a British woman who arrived later in the day at Gibraltar airport on a flight from the UK. All three are helping police with their enquiries.
Police believe the bust struck a blow at an international drugs network that was smuggling cocaine from South America to Spain for distribution in the UK.
EARLY SUMMER DROWNING DEATHS ON COSTA
NEWS Staff Reporters
With summer just beginning, local beaches have already begun to take their toll on swimmers, reminding locals and tourists alike of the need to exercise caution when pursuing long days of fun in the sun.
In San Roque, a 47-year-old British man drowned in the sea off Torreguadiaro while taking an afternoon swim. Red Cross volunteers and the local police called the 061 emergency service and an ambulance was sent from La Línea, but despite the attempts of a lifeguard to resuscitate the man, he was declared dead by the time the medics arrived.
In Torremolinos last week, a German tourist drowned at the beach in front of the Hotel Nautilus. At the time the man entered the water, red danger flags were flying on the beach due to heavy winds and rough seas, and there were no lifeguards on duty. Workers at a beachfront 'chiringuito' restaurant pulled him from the sea, though it was too late to save his life.
The same day, another man, described by officials as a 28-year-old tourist, had a close call at Torremolinos' La Carihuela beach. After nearly drowning, he was rescued and taken to Málaga's Hospital Clínico.
BENALMÁDENA HOLIDAY AGENCY ACCUSED OF FRAUD
Over 1,000 customers paid in advance for cheap holiday rates
By Oliver McIntyre
A DISCOUNT HOLIDAY OUTFIT HEADQUARTERED IN BENALMÁDENA IS BEING INVESTIGATED FOR POSSIBLE FRAUDULENT ACTIVITY IN ITS SALES OF PRE-PAID VACATION PACKAGES TO OVER 1,000 PEOPLE.
The company, Mundo Mágico Tours, S.L., sells multi-year holiday deals under a programme called 'Club de Vacaciones', in which customers pay in advance for highly discounted rates on hotels and holiday apartments. The client pre-pays between 3,000 and 12,000 euros for five to 50 years' worth of the discounted rates, which are good for three weeklong vacations per year for a group of four people.
More than a half-dozen of the company's clients in Madrid accused the business of not living up to its commitments. Earlier this month, agents from the National Police's Fraud Department followed up on the customers' complaints, arresting three members of the company's management team, who were charged and released. A Torremolinos court is now investigating the company for potentially running a scam. Tourism-industry experts describe the scheme as a timeshare programme in disguise.
COMPANY BLAMES BANK
However, in their statements when they were arrested earlier this month, the company heads blamed their failure to meet commitments on financial problems caused by the bank cutting their line of credit, which they used to provide financing options to their clients. They continue to claim that they intend to make good on their contracts with clients, but that the company must first address its financial problems.
The Junta de Andalucía's Consumer Affairs Department indicates that there have now been at least 25 complaints from Mundo Mágico customers in Málaga. Consumer-protection associations in La Rioja and Navarra have also received complaints about the company and indicate that there are affected individuals in their provinces, as well as in Barcelona, Córdoba, Granada and other areas of the country. In some places, such La Rioja, the company's offices have shut down.
Last Sunday, around 70 disgruntled clients from all over Andalucía and as far away as Madrid and Cantabria gathered in front of the company's headquarters at Benalmádena's Puerto Marina. The affected customers have created an association to fight the company, and have selected a Málaga lawyer to represent them.
NERJA OFFERS TO CARE FOR NATURAL PARK
By Dave Jamieson
Nerja Town Hall has indicated that it is prepared to take responsibility for the care of the cliff area in the Maro-Cerro Gordo natural park, but has asked the Junta de Andalucía for support. The councillor for Beaches, José Miguel García, said that the regional government's Environment Department recently asked Nerja to install so-called "ecological islands" in the area, in order to provide collection points for rubbish with as little impact as possible on the surroundings. Technicians from the Junta and from the Town Hall made an inspection visit to the park last week, as a result of which more collections may be introduced to cope with increased visitor activity during summer.
Sr García proposes that Nerja take on wider responsibilities in the park, including not just the beaches, but also the access tracks and areas just off the main N-340 road. The Junta is to be advised of the cost of the proposed work and will be asked to collaborate through financial support, supplying materials or by funding a lorry for rubbish collection. The councillor indicated that the Town Hall would co-operate with the Junta to offer the best possible improvements to the park.
MARBELLA BY-PASS CHAOS AT AN END
NEWS Staff Reporter
The road works to add a third lane to the Marbella by-pass between the La Cañada commercial centre and the Puerto Banús tunnel will be completed this week. The completion of the road-widening project, which started in March, will bring to an end weeks of lengthy traffic delays, which caused tailbacks of up to 18 kilometres. The new third lane will improve traffic flow around the N-340 by-pass, to and from the toll motorways, as well as to Marbella town centre. As CDSN went to press, the last asphalt was being laid and workers were painting the road markings. The work was accelerated in recent weeks by Ausol, the company that owns the concession for the toll motorway and funded the road-widening scheme. It is estimated that 45,000 vehicles use the road every day, including many heavy transport lorries because it is the most direct route to the province of Cádiz and the major port of Algeciras.
MÁLAGA BANKS ON BETTER BUSES
Unicaja deal means improvements for passengers
By Dave Jamieson
THE CITY OF MÁLAGA'S TRANSPORT AUTHORITY, EMT, HAS DONE A DEAL WITH UNICAJA BANK THAT WILL ALLOW THE MUNICIPALITY TO UPGRADE ITS BUS FLEET. THE SIX-MILLION-EURO INVESTMENT WILL LEAD TO THE ACQUISITION OF MORE LOW-CONTAMINATION VEHICLES AND IMPROVED TRAVEL INFORMATION FOR PASSENGERS.
Under the plan, EMT is to buy 78 new buses. Some of them will be of the type that use electrical energy or natural gas, following recent trials of one of the eco-friendly units on route 36 in the city. Within three years, the transport authority expects to be operating 25 such vehicles, while the support from Unicaja will also mean the arrival of 25 regular buses, powered by the latest generation of diesel engines, to replace the fleet's present articulated units.
Plans also call for the installation of 100 passenger-information display boards, which will use satellite technology to pinpoint the location of individual buses and estimate their arrival time at each bus stop. In addition, users will be able to have this real-time information relayed to their mobile telephones, in a project planners say will give Málaga one of the most advanced public transport services in the country.
DEBATE RAGES OVER GENAL VALLEY NATURAL PARK
Some residents fear tighter land-use restrictions
By David Eade
A DEBATE IS RAGING AMONGST THE 16 MUNICIPALITIES OF THE VALLE DEL GENAL OVER WHETHER THE REGION SHOULD BE DECLARED A NATURAL PARK.
So far, only six of the town halls, Benalauria, Benadalid, Alpandeire, Benarrabá, Jubrique and Casares, are in favour of the proposal. One of the major fears amongst residents is that, once the region is declared a protected natural park, they will have to seek permission to do just about anything on their properties.
But Juan Calvente, the spokesperson for the pro-nature park lobby, says this perception is part of a campaign of misinformation being carried out by the park's opponents. Sr Calvente says it is important that the people of the area know the real pros and cons of the project. He maintains that the plan's call to designate 42,000 hectares as a natural park would improve the lives of more than 10,000 residents.
According to a report prepared by the regional government's Environment Department, there is more socio-economic wealth in communities situated inside natural parks. The natural-park designation allows them to enter into a new form of tourism promotion, capitalising on the natural beauty of their environments in an ecologically friendly and sustainable way. Even now, prior to its possible designation as a natural park, tourism is the principal source of income for the Valle del Genal.
TRIPLE TRAFFIC CHECKPOINT CHECKS FOR SAFETY
By Oliver McIntyre
Drivers entering or exiting the 'Autovia del Mediterraneo' motorway at the confluence of Mijas, Fuengirola and Benalmádena last Thursday were faced with a triple traffic checkpoint manned by the local police departments of all three towns. In the first of a summer-long campaign of traffic check-ups, the three police departments focussed on safety-related infractions, such as talking on a mobile telephone while driving or failure to wear a seatbelt or, for motorcyclists, a helmet.
According to Fuengirola's chief inspector, Joaquín Rueda, the programme is an extension of the three departments' permanent campaign to encourage the use of motorcycle helmets, which began a year and half ago.
Benalmádena sergeant Francisco Zamora pointed out that the helmet campaign has "reduced by 35 per cent the number of head injuries" from motorcycle accidents. Officers were also on the lookout for drivers using mobile phones following the Spanish Home Office's Traffic Department's recently announced campaign (CDSN June 19) aimed at cracking down on 'talking and driving'.
In last week's triple checkpoint, officers stopped a total of 70 cars and 12 motorbikes. The police departments plan to conduct similar control points on an intermittent basis throughout the summer months.