Saturday, July 26, 2014

Identity of collision ship still a mystery

Having had to abandon his 11-metre ketch Dumpling after a collision with a huge white vessel the size of an oil tanker or container ship three weeks ago, single-handed yachtsman Nick Cole has learned that his badly damaged and disabled boat has been located and towed back to Madeira.
The Portuguese authorities have identified two white vessels that were in the collision area at the time, but the Falmouth Coastguard has refused to divulge the names because it is “commercially sensitive.”
Boats under sail generally have right-of-way over motorised vessels.
Cole was sailing from Porto Santo in the Madeira group of islands to Portimão in the Algarve when the collision occurred in good weather and in broad daylight.
 “I was down below gloating over our progress, writing the log, counting the days etc when there was a terrific crash that threw me off my seat and the pans from the stove,” he told us.
“I raced for the deck thinking, ‘Shit! The mast must have come down!’ But when on deck I was confused by a huge white wall where there should have been sea and sky. It took a second to realise I was in a collision.
 “As the ship passed, I called her on VHF to say we had collided and to ask if they could see me. They confirmed they could see me, so I said I would assess the damage and get back to them.”
Having established that Dumpling was in a bad way, he called back but received no reply. The huge white ship just carried straight on to the horizon.
Seven hours later Dumpling was still afloat and Nick had sorted the chaos on board as best he could. He had a beautiful moonlit night all to himself - but he thought a storm might be brewing. 
“The next afternoon, after several failed attempts to make contact with other ships, a tanker called the MV Everglades answered and told me a force 8 gale with big seas were due in four to five hours,” he said.
He realised he would have to abandon Dumpling and asked the Everglades to pick him up. The Russian captain and crew were most obliging and hospitable during the voyage to their destination in the northeast of England, but they were much delayed in a queue of heavy shipping waiting to dock.
Nick, his wife Sally and their twin sons, James and David, live in England but still have a home in the Algarve. The boys attended the International School, Porches.
Nick built Dumpling by himself in England in the 1980s and sailed her to the Algarve before opening a dental practice in Lagoa in 1990. A sturdy but unsophisticated ‘green’ boat, he extensively refitted her on the land in front of his home near Silves in 2012 and sailed her to Porto Santo last year.
After the collision on his way back to the Algarve, it was 12 days before he finally stepped ashore, still feeling somewhat fragile but lucky to be alive.
Reunited with his family in England, he made contact with the British emergency maritime authorities in Falmouth. They in turn contacted the Portuguese authorities who reported that a fishing vessel had sighted Dumpling adrift five nautical miles west of Deserta Grande Island in the Madeira Archipelago.
The fishing vessel towed Dumpling to Funchal, the capital and main port of Madeira. Her future has yet to be decided. Efforts to positively identify the ship that smashed into her are continuing.                                                                                 

   On board Dumpling before the crash

Alongside the rescue tanker

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Amaral hits back at McCanns’ claims

Gonçalo Amaral insists that the lawfulness of his book Maddie: A Verdade da Mentira is “indisputable” and has reiterated that he may file a counter lawsuit against Kate and Gerry McCann.
The lead detective in the original investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann revealed this in a Facebook message to supporters in which he gave an assessment of his position on the current libel action brought against him by the McCanns.
Mr Amaral said he was considering seeking compensation from the McCanns and others for the enormous damages he claims they have caused him on different levels.  
Both Kate and Gerry McCann were allowed to address the court in Lisbon’s Palace of Justice a fortnight before the long-running trial was adjourned yet again. The suspension meant that closing arguments on behalf of Mr Amaral could not be heard before the court went into summer recess.
In his Facebook statement, Mr Amaral began by saying: “Upon reading the news about the most recent trial session, I am certain that the vast majority of journalists don’t know what is being discussed in court, and have not reported correctly.”
He went on to itemise what he sees as being at stake in the trial.
The court must decide whether writing the book was a lawful or unlawful action, whether or not the McCanns have suffered damages and whether or not there are facts to prove it. Also at stake is whether or not it is possible to establish a causal nexus between the book and such damages, he said. 
He insisted that the lawfulness of the book was indisputable because of a decision of the Appellate Court in Lisbon, which overturned an earlier ruling banning the book.
“With proof of the lawfulness of the book, the matter should rest here, without the need to investigate anything further, namely concerning the damages that the plaintiffs complain about,” he said.
“Nonetheless, we should note that even if the lawfulness may still be at stake, there is still the need to establish a causal nexus between the publication and the damages that the plaintiffs complain about, such as deep depression, social isolation, etc. And, of course, to prove that said damages, no matter where they originate from, really exist.”
Mr Amaral continued: “Concerning the social part, it seems obvious to me, if we pay attention to the countless social events that the plaintiffs have participated in, including speeches at the British Parliament, interviews on television shows like Oprah Winfrey’s, gala dinners with illustrious personalities, namely British, among others, that said social isolation is totally false.
“Concerning the depressions, although they are in no way proved within the case, in my opinion, in fact it would be very strange if they didn’t exist. The disappearance of a daughter, whether she is dead or alive, whether or not she was abducted, has to originate enormous consequences of that kind. How strange would it be if that wasn’t the case!
“But about this issue I won’t say anything further, given that the plaintiffs seem to attribute to me and my book all of their pain, as if said disappearance, followed by their arguido status and other circumstances that surround the case, were of no importance, or weren’t more than enough!”
Mr Amaral blamed the latest postponement of the case on “clearly dilatory manoeuvres” on the part of the McCanns. He wants the case to finish as soon as possible, he said, but fears it will drag on for a long time, exacerbated by a scheduled reorganisation within the judicial system in September following the end of the summer recess.
Despite this, “my trust in Portuguese justice remains steadfast,” Mr Amaral said.
In thanking those who have supported him, he said it would have been impossible to fight the McCann’s libel action without them.
Towards the end of his statement, he revealed that he is considering filing a lawsuit against the McCann couple and others, “in order to be compensated for the enormous damages that they have caused me already, on all levels, such as moral, professional and financial.”
Mr Amaral concluded: “The time to judicially react to all those who have put my privacy, my intimacy, my freedom of expression and opinion, and my survival conditions at stake is approaching.
“They have tried to assassinate me civilly, but due to the support and solidarity of all of you, they were not successful.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The McCann case: Well, well, well.....

With two futile weeks of ground searching and the questioning of four unlikely suspects still fresh in the memory, a former Scotland Yard commander had a new idea. In a report in the Mail on Sunday he urged detectives to examine an abandoned well “just 875 yards from the apartment where Madeleine McCann vanished.”
The newspaper carried an aerial view of the location and also a close-up photo of the supposed well.
 “The Mail on Sunday has established that the uncovered shaft is on scrubland used as a campsite by Roma Gypsies – and has been overlooked by Portuguese police,” according to the paper.
The aerial view indicated that the well was located on land behind the property of a well-known resident of Praia da Luz. He told us that in his 28 years of living there he had never seen Roma Gypsies camping in the area.
But the Mail on Sunday’s claim could not be lightly dismissed because the former commander had served 27 years with the Metropolitan Police and as Commander of Specialist Operations had dealt with serious crime, from murder to rape and human trafficking.
“It [the well] is clearly known to locals and possibly to local criminals as a place to discard evidence from petty crime, such as handbags and other unwanted stolen items,” said the ex-commander.
The local homeowner was bemused by this. “Before they tossed the handbags into the well, I hope the Roma Gypsies checked to see if they were Gucci,” he said.
Of course the ex-commander was not just talking about petty crime. He quickly came to his main point: “Whoever abducted Madeleine knew the local streets, alleyways and scrubland and used that knowledge to avoid detection.”
Not one to shirk a challenge even on a formidably hot summer’s day, our source in Luz went to check out the ex-commander’s hunch.
The first problem was a two-metre high fence. With difficulty he managed to find a hole in the wire only to be confronted by a six-metre wide boundary of thick vegetation. Eventually he emerged prickled, sweating and swearing into a recently mowed hay field.
“I felt relieved that if I were now to be attacked by irate Roma bandits, at least I could see them coming and hopefully make a hasty retreat,” said our intrepid explorer.
“I walked all over the hay field but was not able to discover a well. I was relieved to be able to return to the gap in the fence and depart with no loss of either wallet or handbag.”
Asked about a circular object that can be seen in the middle of the area on Google Earth, our source in Luz  said, “it could be an alien landing pad, but more likely a  flat round area for threshing corn. It’s certainly not the well shown in the paper.”
He concluded with dismay that tourism-dependent Luz had once again been portrayed as a lawless place – and certainly not the sort of place to go on holiday.
If Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood and his team decide to take the ex-commander’s advice and go searching wells, they had better come prepared for a long stay. There are many hundreds of wells dotted all over the Algarve. Fortunately, most of the others are fairly easy to find.
Meanwhile, the “Stop McCann Circus” street signs are still in place in Luz.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Children exposed to bullfight violence

Many foreign holidaymakers are unwittingly mistreating their children and breaking the law by bringing under-age youngsters to bullfights, according to animal rights activists in the Algarve.
The activist group Cidade de Albufeira Anti Touradas (CAAT) is urging the government inspectorate in charge of safety at public shows to stop turning a blind eye to the illegal admittance of children under the age of 12.
The protesters claim that many youngsters are being blatantly exposed to animal cruelty every time a bullfight is staged in the Algarve.
Tourists make up the big majority of spectators in the Albufeira bullring, the busiest venue of its kind in the country.
Portugal’s commission for the protection of children and young people at risk (CNPCJR) confirms that the law clearly forbids entrance to under 12-year-olds.
There are no exceptions to this stipulation. When the authorities are unsure of a child’s age, parents are supposed to be asked to show proof in the form of an identity document. If parents are unable to do so, the responsibility for adhering to the law lies with them.
       The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child earlier this year expressed concern and called on Portugal to investigate the mental and emotional effects of exposing child spectators to bullfighting.
Anti-bullfight protesters stop short of blaming holidaymakers for knowingly mistreating their children or breaking the law. Most British and other foreign parents, they say, are unaware of the law and are themselves victims of misinformation about bullfighting being an acceptable feature of Portuguese culture.
“Everyone is told that the bulls are not killed in the ring as in Spain, so it sounds as if Portuguese bullfighting is innocent,” says Isabel Searle, leader of the protesters. “But the tourists are not told about the suffering before, during and after the fights.”
This form of public entertainment has been going on in Portugal as well as Spain for centuries, but growing numbers of people in both countries are demanding that it be finally banned.
Children along with adults visiting a tourada in Albufeira can expect to witness four to six bulls being taunted and speared in a spectacle that lasts for about two hours.
Bullfights are held weekly during the summer months. “Tourist go out of curiosity. They are not aware of the cruelty involved,” said Mark Evans, a member of the activist group. “I’ve seen many holidaymakers looking shocked and sometimes physically sick after their first bullfight. They don’t go again.”
CAAT protesters of various nationalities are planning another peaceful demonstration outside the Albufeira arena next Wednesday evening (July 16th) and again on the evening of Friday 22nd August. They are appealing for others, foreign residents as well as Portuguese, to join them.
When questioned about young children being allowed into the bullring, police have told protesters it is a matter for the Inspeção-Geral das Atividades Culturais (IGAC). The inspectorate has so far shown no interest in rigorously applying the law, say the activists.
By promoting awareness among tourists about the brutality involved, protesters hope to bring about an end to bullfighting in the Algarve, which might eventually lead to a ban throughout the country.  
One of the few British aficionados living in the Algarve, who has been going to bullfights in Spain for decades, told us that the standard of bullfighting in the Algarve is low because they are merely tourist shows.
He agreed that bullfighting is a violent spectacle and noted that even at its highest level it is a dangerous one for the men fighting on foot, who are often injured, sometimes fatally when hit by a charging bull weighing perhaps 500 kilos. Horses, which feature strongly in Portuguese-style bullfighting, are also at risk.
Compared with domesticated cattle raised for meat, bulls destined for the ring have a much better lifestyle, he claimed. Quality fighting bulls are kept in good pastures for five years before entering the ring in top physical condition, whereas cattle are often dosed with drugs to hasten growth and kept in miserable surroundings before being slaughtered at less than two years old.
He disputed that support for bullfighting was decreasing, saying that the banning of bullfighting in Catalonia was politically motivated, while its popularity in Andalusia and parts of Portugal was still very strong. In France it is on the increase, he said.
Vasco Reis, a retired Portuguese veterinary surgeon who has studied bullfighting and whose persistence helped abolish it from the Algarve municipality of Aljezur, argues that anatomic, physiologic and neurological reactions of bulls, horses and humans are similar when they are threatened, frightened or hurt.
“Common sense tells us this and science confirms it,” he says.
“It is important to mention the claustrophobia and the panic that the bull experiences when it is taken violently from its field and transported in a confined space. It is then constantly abused with the intention of weakening it physically and emotionally before it is led out into the ring.
“Once in the ring, the bull is subjected to much provocation and torture. Afterwards comes more suffering with the always violent and painful extraction of the spears, tearing and striking the skin to free the banderillas.
“When it is all over, the animal is transported away, worn out, hurt and febrile, in a severe toxic metabolic acidosis, which makes it very sick, until death in a slaughterhouse a few days later finally frees it from its suffering.”
The vet maintains that horses in a bullring suffer from exhaustion and terrible psychological tension because they are dominated and encouraged by force to confront the bull when the horse’s natural instinct is to run away from it.
“With the heavy training, the spurs which hurt and wound it, the bits in the mouth and the chain around the jaw, which is a painful way to overpower it, the horse risks death in the ring either by heart attack or because of the wounds inflicted on it.”
Vasco Reis concludes: “It is difficult, if not impossible to believe that bullfighters and those who enjoy bullfighting can say they love bulls and horses, when they subject them to such violence.
 “I can’t help but wonder why such a violent activity, based on the public suffering of these animals, is allowed to continue authorised by law, or even how it has fans and is applauded and glorified by some. A true democracy does not permit torture.”

                            Photo taken in Albufeira June 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Glasses raised for a friend of Portugal

The most relevant snippet of information to emerge from all the recent histrionics in Brussels was confirmation that Jean-Claude Juncker is a good friend of Portugal. In this country anyway, it well surpasses revelations about his drinking habits.
On a visit to Portugal in May, Juncker let it be know that he had “great respect” for the Portuguese people and that “Lisbon is the city I love most in the world.” 
Affirmation of this goodwill came from none other than the former Portuguese prime minister and out-going president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, following Juncker’s nomination last week as Barroso’s successor.
Barroso said he was “delighted” with the choice of the overwhelming majority of European Council members. He told Portuguese reporters: “For over 25 years I’ve known Jean-Claude Juncker as very pro-European, a political leader with extensive experience…. and a friend of our country”
The European Parliament is expected to approve Juncker’s appointment at an extraordinary summit in Strasbourg on July 16. Subject to the parliament’s rubber stamp, the former prime minister of Luxembourg (one of the EU’s six founder member states) will assume office when Barroso’s mandate expires at the end of October.  
When Barroso became president in 2004 he was a compromise choice. During his two five-year terms he has been widely perceived as a weak and uninspired leader. Critics have depicted him as “a visionless lap dog” pandering to the EU’s most powerful member states.
That is perhaps far too harsh a judgement considering he has had to juggle with the complexities of the often out-of-step European Commission, European Council and European Parliament during a tumultuous decade. The number of member states had just leapt from 15 to 27 and Euroscepticism was on the rise during his first term; the euro crisis dominated the second.
The extraordinary outpouring of protest votes during this year’s parliamentary elections was a clear indication of the deep and widespread disenchantment with the EU that was well beyond Barroso’s ability to control.
The centre-right European People’s Party, the centre-left Socialists and the Liberals have since negotiated and reached a deal for a pro-European majority in the parliament. The deal supports the appointment of key personnel, including that of Juncker from the centre-right as President of the European Commission and the re-election of Martin Schulz from the centre-left as President of the European Parliament.
Juncker faces a lot more opposition than that of British Prime Minister David Cameron who has stuck to his guns about Juncker being “the wrong person” for the presidency and declared his determination to “fight on” for major reform in the EU.  
As a federalist, Juncker wants closer integration within Europe while radical left-wingers in Portugal want out of the euro currency and the far right in several member states want their countries out the union altogether.
Fortunately for Juncker, his opponents in the new parliament are a fractious lot. Britain’s Ukip have formed a eurosceptic alliance with Italy’s Five Star movement, but France’s Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders have so far failed to come up with a united front. 
The best the media could throw at Juncker just before the presidential vote in Brussels were reports that he is a heavy drinker with a penchant for cognac at breakfast. 
There was no mention that in the run-up to the 2010 general election in the UK, David Cameron told workers at Fuller’s brewery in London, “I tend to drink bitter rather than lager.” Before that he had told BBC Radio 4 listeners that his choice of a desert island luxury would be a Jura single malt Scotch whisky. 
Scotch whisky was Margaret Thatcher’s regular evening tipple. Bell’s blended was her preferred brand. She once told a personal assistant, “You must have whisky to give you energy.”
President George W. Bush apparently agreed. A heavy drinker before taking office in 2001, Jim Beam bourbon was his favourite.
Barack Obama apparently has a liking for Miller Lite Draft beer, but when photographed during a visit to Ireland he naturally had a pint of Guinness in hand.
In tune with her compatriots, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is sometimes seen enjoying a glass of beer. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, however, does not share his nation’s passion for vodka. It was only during visits to Germany that he developed a taste for beer, reportedly the only alcohol he touches.
Shortly before becoming France’s president, François Hollande told the Revue de Vin de France magazine: “Like many French, I am seduced by the excellence of the wines of our country.”
Perhaps Barroso’s lack-lustre performance in Europe’s top job can be attributed to his choice of drinks. Should he have gone for more whisky and less port, or settled for iced tea instead of vinho tinto?
Boozing at breakfast time is certainly questionable in anyone’s language. Maybe Barroso could persuade his successor to swap cognac in the mornings for one of Portugal’s finest aguardentes as a nightcap - and promote Portuguese exports in the process. Now that would be friendly, wouldn’t it?