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Zika virus makes Rio Olympics a threat in Brazil and abroad, health expert says

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As Brazil reels from a spiraling political crisis and its deepest recession in decades, a public health specialist in Canada has added to the country’s woes with a high-profile call for the 2016 summer Olympics – slated to kick off in Rio de Janeiro in early August – to be postponed or moved due to the Zika outbreak.

“But for the Games, would anyone recommend sending an extra half a million visitors into Brazil right now?” Canadian professor Amir Attaran, whose research areas include population health and global development policy, asked this week in a commentary published in the Harvard Public Health Review.

First seen in Brazil last year, the Zika virus has now been detected in more than 50 countries. Brazil remains the country most-affected by the mosquito-borne virus, which has been proven to cause a severe birth defect that results in babies born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. The virus has also been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can result in paralysis and death.

In February, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern. Save for advising pregnant women not to travel to Zika-affected areas – including Rio de Janeiro – WHO has not issued any other travel restrictions on Zika-affected countries.

Speaking to the Guardian on Thursday, Attaran described the idea of going ahead with the games as both “indescribably foolish” and “monstrously unethical”. The potential risks to visitors range from brain-damaged children to death in rare instances, he added. “Is this what the Olympics stand for?”

The state of Rio de Janeiro has recorded 26,000 suspected Zika cases – the highest of any state in Brazil – and has an incident rate of 157 per 100,000, the fourth highest in the country, he said. “What is proposed is to bring half a million Olympic visitors into the heart of the epidemic.”

The deluge of athletes and visitors expected to pour into Rio from countries around the world could facilitate the virus’s transmission in countries that to date have been unaffected, he said.

The risk is that the virus may land on the doorstep of countries that do not have adequate healthcare infrastructure to tackle the virus. “With all those skills and gifts that Brazil possesses, it has been unable to quell this catastrophe,” said Attaran. “Are we seriously expecting that Nigeria, the Congo, and Indonesia will be able to do so?”

On Thursday, WHO responded to the claims, noting that the Zika virus usually results in mild symptoms – ranging from fever, body aches and rashes – with most of those affected not experiencing any symptoms at all.

The organisation said it has been working with the Brazilian government to mitigate the risk posed by Zika to athletes and visitors, and is encouraging visitors to take precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites and practice safer sex.

The timing of the Games may also prove help helpful. “The Games will take place during Brazil’s wintertime when there are fewer active mosquitoes and the risk of being bitten is lower,” the organisation said in a statement.

The International Olympic Committee said it has no plans to postpone or move the Games and instead has been in close contact with WHO to track the Zika virus in Brazil. “We are working with our partners in Rio on measures to deal with the pools of stagnant water around the Olympic venues, where the mosquitos breed, to minimise the risk of visitors coming into contact with them,” the IOC told the Guardian.

In recent weeks, the Zika outbreak has been eclipsed by the many challenges facing Brazil: Dilma Rousseff, the country’s president, has been stripped of her presidential duties and is facing impeachment; the economy has plunged into a deep recession; and uproar has been growing over a corruption scandal involving the state-controlled oil company, Petrobras, and politicians across the spectrum.

Rousseff was suspended early on Thursday, after the country’s senate voted to impeach her over charges she whitewashed government finances. Hours later the interim president, Michael Temer, named a politician with no medical background as the new health minister. The portfolio will be taken by Ricardo Barros, a civil engineer by training. He is the fourth health minister in little more than half a year.

The medical director of Australia’s Olympic team said he believed the risk of the Zika virus was minimal for Australian athletes. “The last couple of people that I have spoken to, who have been to Rio in the past month or two, haven’t seen a mosquito,” said David Hughes in a statement. “Given that there is no chance that the Games are going to be shifted to another venue, I believe we can proceed with confidence, knowing that we have appropriate guidelines and preventative measures in place.”

Canada’s Attaran is not the first academic to publicly question whether the games in Brazil should go on as planned. In February, New York University’s Arthur Caplan and Lee Igel, wrote in an article that “to host the Games at a site teeming with Zika … is, quite simply, irresponsible”.

Attaran pointed to the 1976 Winter Olympics – moved to Austria after mounting costs forced the American city of Denver to withdraw as host – as a precedent for allowing the Games to be changed in exceptional circumstances. “I’m not the Olympic Grinch. I’m not calling for the games to be cancelled,” he said. “What I’m asking for is a bit of delayed gratification so that babies aren’t born permanently disabled.”

Guardian

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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