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How looted treasure helped heritage protection in Spain: The side benefits of the ‘Odyssey case’ | USA

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On stormy days, the Underwater Archeology Center (CAS) in Spain’s southern city of Cádiz is reminiscent of an early 20th-century ship at the mercy of the waves. The windows of this former spa overlooking La Caleta beach creak in the wind, and the rough seas are a reminder of the tragedies of bygone days.

Just in the area within eyesight, there are 87 sunken shipwrecks dating back to many different periods of time, 19 of which have been archeologically located while the rest are known about through existing documents. If the radius is extended to the entire gulf of Cádiz, the figure is closer to “around 2,000″ according to Milagros Alzaga, the head of CAS.

The well-publicized case of a US treasure hunting company named Odyssey that plundered one of these shipwrecks 14 years ago has had an unexpected benefit: Spain has since become a world leader in the legal protection of its underwater heritage. The effort is also creating new scientific challenges.

“We have become a role model and the world looks to us as a point of reference,” says Mariano Aznar, a professor of public international law and an expert on the subject. But reaching this status involved years of litigation in the US, where in February 2012 a Florida court recognized Spain’s ownership of 500,000 gold and silver coins taken by Odyssey from Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a frigate that was sunk by the British navy on October 5, 1804 off the southern coast of Portugal. The US company had named the recovery project Black Swan in an effort to conceal the wreck’s real identity.

Divers from the Andalusian Center for Underwater Archeology working in the bay of Cádiz.
Divers from the Andalusian Center for Underwater Archeology working in the bay of Cádiz.

However, a Spanish court was recently forced to drop an ongoing probe into Odyssey’s alleged destruction of the archeological site because the statute of limitations had passed; the court expressed “discomfiture” and “anger” at the unusual circumstances surrounding the legal procedures of the case, which required cooperation from the US that was not forthcoming.

“The case was a bit sad, but if you look at the positive side, it’s been a wake-up call for everyone,” says the head of CAS, which answers to the Andalusian Institute for Historical Heritage (IAPH).

The people in charge of Odyssey Marine Exploration, then headed by Greg Stemm, were aware of the ship’s history, which is linked to the Spanish-French defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. They were knowledgeable about the conflicts of power between the relevant institutions and about the existing legal loopholes in Spain.

“They took advantage of the administrative weaknesses,” says Aznar about Odyssey but also about another US company that used a ship named Louisa to scour the coast of Cádiz in 2004 in search of treasure.

Following two years of meetings and discussions, a volume published in the summer of 2010 under the name “Green Paper on the Underwater Heritage Protection Plan” eliminated a lot of this lack of coordination. “That plan provided support to regional governments, which lacked an underwater archeology map,” notes Alzaga.

On the legal front, the combined efforts triggered a wave of reinforced regulations. At the regional level, each government has “aligned even further” with the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. National maritime legislation has added a provision stating that salvage rules do not apply to submerged archeology. And the changes are not over yet: an amendment to the 1985 Spanish Historical Heritage Law announced in June will include the need for supervision from the Culture Ministry during any extraction of a cultural asset from the seabed.

The Naval Museum in Madrid organized an exhibition in 2014 that displayed part of the recovered treasure.
The Naval Museum in Madrid organized an exhibition in 2014 that displayed part of the recovered treasure. LUIS SEVILLANO

More awareness, fewer digs

This increased protection, coordination and knowledge has also permeated Spain’s law-enforcement agencies. The Navy now plays a much larger role, and the incorporation of the Integrated External Surveillance System – a network of cameras and sensors in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Canary Islands used to control immigration and drug trafficking – has shielded much of the Gulf of Cádiz, home to the greatest concentration of sunken wrecks in need of protection, against treasure-hunting pirates. “The professionalism these days is spectacular,” notes Aznar.

If the Odyssey case has been revived again in the collective imagination, it is not just because of the court probe that was recently closed in Spain, but also thanks to La Fortuna (or, The Fortune), a TV series by filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar based on The treasure of the Black Swan, a graphic novel by Paco Roca.

The Odyssey case also created more social awareness. Very few local divers dare plunder the sea bottom these days, and alert citizens often “call in if they see something strange,” notes Alzaga, of CAS. “People now view the underwater heritage as something that belongs to them and cannot be traded with.” But Aznar believes that more could be done to educate the public. “We need to show young people that [the seabed] is the biggest museum in the world. Maybe we can’t access it for economic and technological reasons, but a day will come when it will be possible. You can only love what you know, and at that point we will be able to force our political class to be more proactive.”

There is still room for improvement. The archeologist Javier Noriega, whose company Nerea won a EU award in 2009 for social responsibility, was part of the private prosecution in the case against Odyssey in Spain. Noriega admits he is disappointed with the things that happened during the investigation, but would rather focus on the future now through studies showing submerged sites as places of memory and war graves. Last week, Noriega defended this vision at Cyanis, a brand new Ibero-American congress on underwater heritage that was held in Cádiz.

Every shipwreck, whether caused by battles, raging seas or accidents, typically involves dozens of deaths. This is something that Odyssey did not take into account when it raided Nuestra Señora de la Mercedes “without shame or respect,” says Alzaga. This was one of Spain’s arguments at the Florida trial, and Aznar believes that it would have been a key argument in Spain if the second case had prospered. In any event, Noriega defends that underwater archeology should also incorporate this dimension as a way “to give people an identity, to reconstruct their stories.”

The head of CAS is familiar with that perspective. Construction work at the port of Cádiz in 2012 turned up three sunken ships from the 16th to 18th centuries. Alzaga was able to identify the Piccola Vassalla, the first ship sunk by Francis Drake in 1587, during his attack on the city. An exploration of the shipwrecks found remains of a woman’s skull and a man’s femur, and these are still being analyzed for clues about everyday life in the 16th century. The CAS has not carried out new surveys since then, although it has made documentation visits to sites.

Noriega defends the need for more underwater digs, particularly at the site of the wrecks of the Battle of Trafalgar, some of which are largely unknown to researchers. “We need to investigate, intervene, conserve and publish information about more wrecks in order to shed light on the stories of the people who died on them,” he says. For him, it would be almost an act of poetic justice following his disappointment over the shelving of the case against Odyssey. And ultimately it would be a way “for a problem to turn into an opportunity.”

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Nphet proposes cap on households mixing over Christmas period

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The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended that no more than four households should mix over the Christmas period.

Nphet met on Thursday to consider advice for the Government on the latest pandemic situation, at a time when Covid-19 case numbers have stabilised at a high level and further information on the Omicron variant is being awaited.

It last night sent a letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly which recommends a maximum of six people at a table in bars and restaurants, the closure of nightclubs and limits on households mixing.

The contents of the letter are expected to be discussed by Ministers and senior officials at a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Friday.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Government would move “as quickly as it can” to examine the latest recommendations from Nphet and to decide if further restrictions will be introduced. She said the Cabinet would need to be given time to “look at this advice and take it on board”.

During an interview on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms McEntee said the Government had to ensure it was clear about about what it would do in terms of restrictions and why before anything was announced.

“Of course if there are impacts on businesses at any stage of this…I hope people would agree that we haven’t left people wanting,” she said. “We have always responded where business has needed additional income. Where individuals have lost their jobs. We have always provided that support. This won’t be any different.”

Tests for travellers

Separately, the Government has notified airlines that the introduction of a system of PCR and antigen testing for passengers arriving into Ireland has been delayed by 48 hours.





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The measure was due to come into force on Friday, but Aer Lingus said airlines had been informed on Thursday night that the regulations would now begin on Sunday. All arrivals into the State – whether vaccinated or not – will need a negative Covid-19 test result from then onwards.

Those travelling with an antigen test result will need to have obtained it within 48 hours of arrival into Ireland, and it will have to be a professionally administered test.

No self-administered tests will be accepted under rules approved by Cabinet. Those with a PCR test result will have a longer pre-travel window of 72 hours before arrival. Persons arriving into the State from overseas who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 will be required also to have a certified negative test.

Hospitality sector meeting

Meanwhile, Government members are due to meet representatives of the hospitality industry on Friday. Ministers have said there will be supports for the sector if new pandemic measures will impact on their ability to trade.

Ms McEntee said she was particularly conscious that people had been asked to pull back and to reduce their social contacts.

“I am talking to businesses particularly in the hospitality sector and I know the impact that is having on them. This should be their busiest time and it’s not. We are taking this on board. We are going to support all of these businesses as we have always done during the pandemic,” she said.

The Minister dismissed suggestions that the Government was flip flopping or that there was confusion behind the scenes, saying the State is in a “fluid situation” because of the nature of Covid-19.

“What we have seen with the antigen test is that the market has corrected itself. That wasn’t a matter of flip flops or changing. We simply saw the market adjust itself. It is not about Government changing direction. We have to change direction sometimes because of the nature of this pandemic. Everybody is doing their best here,” she said.

‘Random and arbitrary’

Earlier, Maynooth University professor of immunology Paul Moynagh said the latest restrictions reportedly proposed by Nphet could lead to some benefits but seem ed “random and arbitrary”.

He told Newstalk Breakfast that “big mistakes” have been made with regard to messaging to the public.

“Back in September contact tracing was stood down the reason being that children were missing too much school. But we had the option of keeping contact tracing and using antigen testing. And there has been a resistance over the last year from Nphet in terms of using antigen testing,” he said.

“We saw over the last number of days the reluctance of Nphet again to impress advice from experts in the area of ventilation and air filtration. There seems to be this reluctance to accept scientific advice from outside.”

Prof Moynagh said there was a need to look at this reluctance and “learn from our mistakes”.

“Whereas at the moment it seems that mistakes are made and that narrative is defended. And again we end up now with new restrictions that I am not convinced are going to be very impactful,” he said.

“We know they are going to be highly impactful in terms of the sectors for example. I am not convinced by the strategy that is being used at the moment.”


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Senior figures in Washington stand behind Belfast Agreement and protocol, McDonald says

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Senior figures in United States politics have made it clear that the government of Boris Johnson in the UK will face negative consequences internationally if it attempts to rupture or dispense with the Northern Ireland protocol, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.

In a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Thursday she said the protocol was “necessary, operable and going nowhere, despite what Boris Johnson might wish to believe”.

She said she had met with “people of considerable influence” in the US Congress and in the Biden administration on her visit to the US this week and they all stood four square behind the Belfast Agreement and the protocol.

“I heard yesterday on the Hill the clearest possible articulation across the board that any notion of walking away from the protocol would not be acceptable to the United States.”

Asked about a report in the Financial Timed that Washington had delayed lifting tariffs on UK steel and aluminium products amid concerns about threats by the UK to invoke article 16 of the protocol, Ms McDonald said this was a matter for the Biden administration.

However, she said: “There is no doubt where the US stands. If Johnson believes he can walk away from the protocol, he is wrong and there will be consequences for Britain if he chooses that course of action.”

Tariffs

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie, who was also in Washington DC on Thursday, said if the lifting of tariffs was being delayed due to concerns about the protocol, he would argue at a meeting with the US state department that it had “got it wrong” in its view on what article 16 was about.

“If people say we have to adhere to the protocol and article 16 is part of the protocol then it becomes a legitimate thing you can use.”

“It is not about whether you should or should not use it. It is about how you should use it.

“You should use it in a narrow sense of a particular issue that is causing economic or societal harm in Northern Ireland, for example, medicines .”

“If the medicine issue has not been fixed and is starting to affect the people of Northern Ireland, it would be right to instigate article 16 to focus minds on that issue.”

Ms McDonald also told the press club event that she expected the United States would “be on the right side” on the controversy over British plans for an amnesty in relation to killings during the Troubles.

She said the British government was going to the ultimate point to keep the truth from the people about its war in Ireland.

She said the Johnson government’s plans would mean “in effect no possibility of criminal action, civil actions or even inquests into killings in the past”.

Ms McDonald also forecast that a point was coming over the coming five or 10 years where referenda would be held on the reunification of Ireland. She urged the Irish government to establish a citizen’s assembly to consider preparation for unity.

She also said “there will be need for international support and international intervention to support Ireland as we move to transition from partition to reunification”.

Separately, asked about a recent Sinn Féin golf fundraising event that was held in New York, Ms McDonald said the money that was raised would be spent on campaigning and lobbying in the US.

She described it as a patriotic expression by people in the US who had a deep interest in Ireland and the peace process.

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Drop in cancer diagnoses as high as 14 per cent during pandemic, early data shows

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The drop in the number of cancers detected during the Covid-19 pandemic could be as high as 14 per cent, preliminary data has suggested.

A report from the National Cancer Registry said it was still too early to provide “definitive answers” on whether pandemic hospital restrictions last year led to a reduction in the number of cancers diagnosed.

The registry’s annual report said an estimated decrease of 14 per cent in detections pointed to the “potential scale” of Covid-19’s impact on other healthcare.

A separate analysis of data on microscopically verified cancers diagnosed last year showed a reduction of between 10 and 13 per cent, the report said.

The drop in confirmed cancer cases, when compared with previous years, could be partly accounted for by “incomplete registration of cases already diagnosed”, it said.

Prof Deirdre Murray, director of the National Cancer Registry, said there were “clear signals that, as expected in Ireland, the number of cancer diagnoses in 2020 will be lower than in previous years”.

‘Very worried’

Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, said the organisation was “very worried” over the significant drop in cancers diagnosed last year.

The shortfall in cancers being diagnosed would present a “major challenge” in the coming years, with lengthy waiting lists and disruptions to screening services “all too commonplace” already, she said.

Ms Power said it was frightening to think of the people who were living with cancer but did not know it yet. She added that existing cancer patients were “terrified” of having treatments delayed due to the recent rise in Covid-19 cases.

The registry’s report said there were about 44,000 tumours identified each year between 2017 and 2019.

Not counting non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common cancer diagnoses were for breast and prostate cancer, which made up almost a third of invasive cancers found in women and men respectively.

For men this was followed by bowel and lung cancer, and melanoma of the skin. Lung cancer was the second most common cancer for women, followed by colorectal cancer and melanoma of skin.

Nearly a third of deaths in 2018 were attributed to cancer, with lung cancer the leading cause of death from cancer, the report said.

The second, third and fourth most common cancers to die from in men were bowel, prostate and oesophagus cancer. For women breast, bowel and ovarian cancers were the most common fatal cancers.

The report said there were almost 200,000 cancer survivors in Ireland at the end of 2019, with breast cancer patients making up more than a fifth of the total.

Mortality rates

The research found cancer rates among men had dropped between 2010 and 2019, with mortality rates decreasing or remaining the same across nearly every type of cancer. Rates of cancer detected among women had increased between 2008 and 2019, with mortality rates for most cancers decreasing.

The report said the five-year survival rate from cancer had increased to 65 per cent for the period 2014 to 2018, compared with 42 per cent two decades previous.

There had been “major improvement” in survival rates for most major cancers, however, the research noted the chances of survival varied significantly depending on the type of cancer.

Prostate, melanoma of the skin and testis cancer had survival rates of more than 90 per cent, followed closely by breast and thyroid cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Pancreas, liver, oesophagus and lung cancers had much lower five-year survival rates on average, the report said.

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