Wednesday, Jan 28th

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Newark, New York flights cancelled

AIRPORT--Flights to and from Newark and New York airports were cancelled January 27 in connection with blizzards in the Northeastern United States, while on the day before flights came into St. Maarten, but could not leave.

The question of compensation in case of passengers being stranded falls on airline policy rather than the responsibility of ground handlers, who normally organise transport and lodging when needed. In this case the handlers for the airlines were Halley Aviation Services and Arrindell Aviation.

A Halley Aviation representative explained that airlines did not have to provide compensation because the weather situation was something they could not control. However, he said United Airlines, which flies to Newark, had offered passengers an optional alternative route.

United Airlines was confirmed as being expected to depart early in the morning of January 28, but the situation for all aircraft will depend definitively on the weather.

Jet Blue and Delta airline representatives could not be reached for comment, but the same conditions would apply.

No major pile-ups or mishaps at SXM Princess Juliana International Airport were reported during this time. Many travellers were made aware of the weather conditions, which featured on international media as a "potentially historic blizzard" for some days. At least some passengers also were notified of developments by the airlines through e-mail.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) said on Tuesday that its forecasts had been overestimated, especially for New York City, although blizzard warnings remained for surrounding areas.

Although the "arrivals" feed of the SXM Airport Website was kept up to date and showed the cancelled flights, the "departures" feed for Tuesday still listed the cancelled flights as "on time."

Passengers should contact the airlines directly to check their flight status.

D66 asks about reported volcanic activity in Saba

THE HAGUE--Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Wassila Hachchi of the democratic D66 party wants answers from Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk about reports in the media that Saba's volcano might become active again.

Hachchi submitted no less than 19 written questions to Plasterk on Tuesday following an article in Saturday's science section in de Volkskrant newspaper in which volcanologists Piet Vroon of Free University in Amsterdam and Manfred van Bergen of Utrecht University stated that there might be indications that the Mt. Scenery could become active considering the increase in seismic activity.

According to Vroon and Van Bergen, who visited Saba in the summer of 2014, the seismic equipment on the island had not been operational for months. Saba authorities have denied this and stated on Monday that the seismometer in St. John's was fully operational.

Member of Parliament (MP) Hachchi wanted to know if Plasterk shared the concerns of Island Governor Jonathan Johnson about the possible volcanic threat, as was stated in de Volkskrant article. "Are you also of the opinion that it is of great importance to have a timely eye for the possible risks?" asked Hachchi.

Hachchi wanted to know what was being done about making sure that there was sufficient operational seismic equipment on the island and when a complete monitoring system on the island would be functional.

"How will you ensure that other natural risks, the combination of very steep, instable hills and regularly recurring slides and heavy rains, will be better monitored? Which department in the Netherlands has the final responsibility to ensure safety in Saba?"

Hachchi also inquired about the communication between the involved departments, the island government and the Netherlands on safety issues. She asked about the safety protocol for possible volcano danger, how this protocol was being kept up-to-date and how it was tested in practice.

The MP wanted to know up to what level the infrastructure on the island was volcano-proof, how the communication between the local emergency services was arranged and who had the authority in case of an acute danger.

"When will the evacuation plan be implemented in case of an imminent volcano eruption? In what way will this take place? How much time does it take to send support to Saba in case of acute safety risks? Does the Netherlands have partnerships in the region that can respond more quickly to offer support?" Hachchi concluded her questions.

A press release of the Saba Government issued on Monday stated that there was an evacuation plan that was tested in 2012, in conjunction with the Dutch military. The issue of the seismic equipment, collection of data and monitoring of activity will be discussed in a meeting with Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute KNMI is scheduled for this week, said Governor Johnson who is in charge of the local disaster management organisation.

Crew member dies in Statia boat accident

page12a210ST. EUSTATIUS--One man died after a fishing boat capsized in the waters between St. Eustatius and St. Kitts on January 27.

Harbour Master Austin van Heyningen, of the harbour in Statia, received a call at 4:03pm from the police, stating they had received a distress call from a vessel located South-east of Statia. It transpired that the fishing boat had capsized, leaving three people in the water. One person managed to swim to shore and raised the alarm, while the other two remained with the vessel.

Within minutes, the crew of MV Waterman had been mobilised, and the crew were standing by for instructions five minutes later.

At 4.14 the coordinates of the vessel were confirmed and a tentative location East of Core Bay was given, although the distance to shore could not be confirmed and at 4:21 the MV Waterman, carrying Captain Roy Lawrence, mate V. Woodley, Port Security E. Schmidt and a police officer by the name of Patrick set out to the site, as did a Rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) from the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard.

Unfortunately the rescue came too late for one of the two remaining crew members, who had passed away by the time the rescue vessels arrived.

The vessel in distress was a St. Kitts fishing vessel, which had sustained engine trouble. The vessel had started drifting and taking on water, approximately 3/4 miles off shore, before capsizing.

The Fire department was also called out to assist in the rescue. The survivor and the deceased man were brought back to Statia on the MV Waterman.

2,265 employment permits requested in 2014, 353 denied

~ NAf. 3.5 million given in aid ~

PHILIPSBURG--Government received a total of 2,265 employment permit requests in 2014, according to figures provided by Labour Affairs via the Press Secretariat at the request of The Daily Herald.

A total of 353 of the permits were denied. Of the 2,265 permit requests received, 1,019 were first time requests and 1,142 were requests for renewals of existing permits. A discrepancy of 104 in the figures discovered at press time could not be clarified late last night.

Labour Affairs said its current statistical tracking system did not tabulate how many of the 1,142 requests for renewals for existing permits in fact had been granted and how many had been denied.

As it relates to the unemployed, Labour Affairs said a total of 557 persons had been registered as unemployed last year, which the department said represented "raw data" for a period covering three years.

A total of 37 persons received employment via the department last year, while 415 referrals for employment were made. Five employment placements were in connection with vacancies that registered for the employment permits process.

In the meantime, government shelled out NAf. 3,530,098 million in financial aid to persons in 2014. This amount excludes payments made for Crisis Care.

Leona: Stop first class travel for MPs and ministers, cut salaries

PHILIPSBURG--A five per cent salary cut and an end to all first class air travel for Members of Parliament (MPs) and ministers were proposed to Parliament by independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo during the Plenary Session of Parliament dealing with the draft 2015 budget on Tuesday.

Marlin-Romeo, a member of the governing coalition, said if civil servants could do without the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this year, MPs and ministers should be prepared to take a salary cut.

She intends to formalise her proposals in a motion slated for tabling today, Wednesday, when the plenary session continues in Parliament House at 2:00pm.

Then Democratic Party MP Roy Marlin lobbied for a similar salary cut just over a year ago, but it was withdrawn after he failed to persuade any of his coalition partners to sign on. The proposal had called for a 12 per cent cut to MPs' salaries.

There is still room for "cutbacks" in the draft 2015 budget despite its being labelled a skeleton budget by Finance Minister Martin Hassink, said Marlin-Romeo.

The budget, standing at a total of NAf. 445 million, can be helped further by Parliament and Government putting an end to "wasting and bad spending."

Instead of taking a first class seat on an aeroplane, the MP called for business or economy class seats to be booked when travel is unavoidable. This is a measure for the "trying times" the country is experiencing financially.

For the occasions where video conferencing can suffice, she said this option should be pursued in a move to cut back on cost.

All government-allocated mobile phones should be taken back from non-department heads to reduce the amounts government shells out to pay telephone bills, Marlin-Romeo said. Also, more emphasis needs to be placed on saving energy and a move to solar-generated energy.

Decommissioned government vehicles should be repaired and sold to residents, instead of sitting in the storage yard of the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI on Pond Island, the MP suggested.

Hire fewer consultants and make use of "experienced" civil servants to guide government policy was another suggestion made in Parliament.

"How much money would we save" if the government building on Pond Island were completed and government moved in, she questioned.

Cost also can be cut by a firm stance from government to weed out civil servants who are not working, but still receiving a salary.

Marlin-Romeo suggested a cutback on study financing and the issuance of study grants to students pursuing studies to fill critical vacancies in government's apparatus. Students also should be granted funds to study in accredited universities in the Caribbean to lessen the cost of study in Europe and elsewhere.

All businesses and residents should have unique identifying numbers for easy tracking. This will aid in tax compliance, better organisation and delivery of government services, the MP said.

A comprehensive plan to diversify the economy to generate more income for the country also is needed. To complement that, she suggested the development of activities to promote the country's heritage and culture.

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