News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Mar de AlborAn dolphins face extinction
The sea off the Costa del Sol is home to Med's most important common dolphin population
By David Eade
THE most important community of common dolphins in the Med are in danger of extinction, according to the Centro de Recuperación de Especies Marinas Amenazadas (Crema). The warning, issued by the centre's coordinator, José Luis Mons, relates specifically to the Mar de Alborán off the Costa del Sol.
In recent studies the Mar de Alborán has recorded a relatively abundant number of common dolphins but in the Med overall this species is in decline and now the problem is spreading to the cetaceans in the local sea, according to Crema.
One of the major reasons for the decrease in dolphin numbers is the use of fishing nets, which have captured an increasing number of the cetaceans. There has also been a sharp drop in the numbers of sardines and mackerel, which the dolphins feed on.
Contamination has also affected the breeding cycles of the dolphins and their lactation, says Crema. Tests have shown an increase in the toxins in the mammals' feeding milk.
The increase in marine traffic in recent years has also taken its toll on the dolphins. The presence of the vessels means there is the constant threat of a collision, while the oil slicks left in the ships' wake have a serious impact on the cetaceans, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar - a zone that handles a third of the world's sea traffic.
Crema has launched work on a plan to conserve the common dolphins in the Mar de Alborán, backed by a 32,700-euro budget funded with 22,890 euros from the Fundación Biodiversidad, part of Spain's Environment Ministry, and the balance provided by the Aula del Mar in Málaga.
Patients at Marbella hospital ‘billed' for treatment
Shadow billing - soon to go system wide - aims to show people the cost of public health care
By David Eade
IF YOU are a patient at the Costa del Sol Hospital in Marbella you'll now receive what is called a ‘factura sombra'. Don't let it give you a heart attack. If you are receiving treatment under social security or indeed are covered by insurance you do not have to pay the total shown on the shadow bill. You are still covered in full. Rather, the purpose is to advise patients of what treatment they have received and what it has cost the public health system.
On Monday the scheme was launched at the Marbella hospital and around 50 patients received their ‘bill'. One such was Antonia Sánchez, aged 83, who had an operation on her cataracts. Her factura sombra showed the cost would have been 1,398.63 euros. The statements also include the notation, "financed by all the taxes of all the citizens" - just to remind you who is picking up the tab.
The Costa del Sol Hospital is the first in Andalucía to issue the fake bills - and at first only for certain treatments and diagnostic tests - but the regional government will be rolling out the scheme system wide.
DNA NEVER FORGETS
Nine years later, genetic match leads to arrests in triple rape of English woman
By Dave Jamieson
THREE men suspected of a sexual attack on a young English woman have been detained nine years after the assault. Two were identified after their DNA was found to match records taken immediately after the incident.
A statement released on Monday by the National Police recalled how, in November 2001, the victim was offered a lift home by three men as they left a disco in Benalmádena. She accepted, but was driven instead to a remote area of Torremolinos where the car was stopped and she was threatened with a knife before being given some kind of drug. The three men then subjected her to a physical and sexual assault, including rape.
The subsequent police investigation centred on the statements given by the victim and by witnesses at the disco who saw her leave. Despite examining footage from security cameras, the three men could not be identified. However, samples of sperm found on the victim's body and clothing were taken but the DNA samples did not match any records held on police databases at that time. The identity of the aggressors was to remain a mystery for nearly a decade.
The case remained unresolved until recently when two brothers were arrested on a completely unrelated issue. DNA samples were taken from both men and it was found they matched the samples taken after the attack in 2001 and stored in the police database. The pair were immediately arrested and ordered to be imprisoned. Within a short time, the third man allegedly involved, a cousin of the other two, was implicated and also arrested.
Endesa fined 600,000 euros for Costa blackouts
Supreme Court overturns lower court ruling that had slashed fine by 90 per cent
By Oliver McIntyre
Electricity company Endesa is to be slapped with a 600,000-euro fine for a rash of power cuts that affected the Costa during the summer and autumn of 2003.
The Supreme Court has rejected a lower court ruling that had slashed the Junta de Andalucía's original 600,000-euro sanction on Endesa to just 60,000 euros. On an appeal filed by the Junta, the Supreme Court ruled that Endesa should pay the entire fine.
During the four months from July to October 2003, the province registered power cuts on 60 days - or every other day, on average. The blackouts, which in some cases lasted more than 12 hours, mostly affected municipalities along the coast, including Málaga city.
The Junta de Andalucía argued that Endesa had clearly failed to maintain adequate infrastructure to handle the demand on the power network, particularly given the large population boost along the Costa during the summer months. Its inquiry also concluded that the company did not have sufficient personnel and resources to guarantee quality of service and timely response to power cuts.
Spanish hotels to sue Thomas Cook
Tour operator decided on its own to cut five per cent off its payments to the hotels
By Oliver McIntyre
THE SPANISH hotel industry is set to file legal action against leading British tour operator Thomas Cook over the company's decision to slash five per cent off all its payments to the hotels for the months of August and September of this year.
Spain's hotel industry confederation, CEHAT, announced the move last week after a meeting in Madrid attended by the group's top representatives in the country's major tourism destinations including the Costa del Sol, Benidrorm, and the Canary and Balearic Islands.
CEHAT said it will provide legal support for all the affected hotels in their efforts to "recover the amounts owed and not paid" by Thomas Cook.
The group says the tour operator's decision - which the company blamed on its roughly £80 million loss due to the Icelandic volcano cloud earlier in the year - was not negotiated with the hotels and is a breach of contract.
The company's decision was a major blow to Spanish hoteliers given that "Thomas Cook is the dominant operator in British market, which is the greatest source of foreign tourists to Spain," said CEHAT. The tour operator will bring an estimate total of 1.4 million tourists to Spain this year.
The HOSBEC hotel association in Benidorm, where Thomas Cook controls some 5,000 hotel spaces, said the company's reasons for the payment cut are not credible and that the move represents "the most draconian and arbitrary action" ever taken by a tour operator.
The Spanish hoteliers still hope they can convince Thomas Cook to change its mind and that legal action will not have to move forward. "Once more, CEHAT appeals to the rigour and responsibility of Thomas Cook to rectify its action and to allow a continuation of the good business relationship that has existed up to now," said the group.
Court ruling could save homeowners millions
Judge orders banks to scrap 'abusive' minimum-interest clauses in loans
By Oliver McIntyre
IN WHAT could be a precedent-setting ruling, a Sevilla court has ordered several banks to eliminate the clauses in variable-rate loans that have prevented thousands of loan holders from benefitting from rock-bottom interest rates.
The 'cláusula de suelo', or minimum-interest clause, was part of the fine print on many loans issued in recent years and has meant that while the Euribor interest rate index - the most widely-used in Spain to set mortgage loan rates - dipped to historic lows of under 1.3 per cent, loan holders kept paying at a much higher 'minimum rate'.
The Sevilla court ruling applies to BBVA, Caixa Galicia and Cajamar in a case brought against them by banking consumer watchdog Ausbanc, which argued that the minimum-interest clauses were abusive.
"This transcendental ruling will benefit thousands of people in Spain who have a mortgage loan with these banks," said Ausbanc, calling the court decision a "major step" toward the complete elimination of minimum-interest clauses in mortgage loans.
The group said that throughout Spain the cláusula de suelo - used by many banks besides those named in the case - may be affecting millions of loan holders, and the ruling opens the door to them demanding their money back.
Ham-fisted allegations spark jamOn war
Makers of Spain's most famous delicacy defend themselves after officials suggest possible fraud in 'ibérico' labelling
By Oliver McIntyre
MAKERS of Spain's most famous delicacy, jamón ibérico, came out in their own defence last week after Junta de Andalucía officials suggested there could be fraudulent labelling of Iberian pork products in the region.
The jamón row started when the Junta's Agriculture chief, Clara Aguilera, stated that to provide the number of hams and other products labelled as 'Andalucían ibéricos' currently on sale in stores, the region would need double the number of locally raised Iberian pigs.
Her comments came after her department announced it had seized 17 tons of cured hams and other items from a Sevilla company that allegedly was selling pork products imported from Italy but labelled as 'ibérico'.
Representatives of the Iberian pork sector, while applauding the Junta's cracking down on actual cases of fraud, rejected Sra Aguilera's comments suggesting wide-sweeping mislabelling.
Julio Revilla, president of the ibéricos department of the Spanish Meat Industry Association (Iberaice), stated that the statistics offered by Sra Aguilera were misleading.
He acknowledged that Andalucía has only around 500,000 free-grazing, acorn-fed Iberian pigs - the ones used to create the top-grade hams known as 'ibérico de bellota' - but that there are another several hundred thousand Iberian pigs raised on more basic diets. The products made from these are also legitimately labelled ibérico - but not ibérico de bellota.