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South Africa’s ecological ‘nightmare’ after plastic pellets spill



South Africa is grappling with an ecological disaster after billions of tiny plastic pellets spilled into the sea when a container fell from a ship in the port of Durban.

The pellets, called nurdles, have now been washed up along 1,200km of coastline and are causing a huge threat to areas rich in wildlife. Here is John Sparks’ report from South Africa:

Some people call them “high density plastic'” or “pre-production micro-plastic” but individuals in the industry refer to them as nurdles – a silly sounding name for a lentil-sized pellet that is the building block of all-known plastic products.

Your plastic bag from the supermarket? It’s made from nurdles. Your daughter’s dolly with the clip-on earrings and shoes? They are all moulded from nurdles.

The clean-up has been ongoing for over four months ran by NGOs

Coastline scarred by plastic pollution

Every single day, nurdles are shipped around the world in their billions and billions – just like any other cargo.

But nurdles are not “any other cargo” – a fact the people of South Africa are now learning to their detriment.

A major spill of these translucent pellets in the city of Durban has spread along 2,000 kilometres of coastline, proving virtually impossible to clean up – and the threat posed to marine and birdlife is incalculable, say leading environmentalists.

They may be small in size but their synthetic legacy that could last forever.

The clean-up has been ongoing for over four months ran by NGOs
The clean-up has been ongoing for over four months

Back in October, a freak hurricane bore down on Durban, ripping ships from their moorings and causing chaos in the port.

Propelled by wind power, two vessels belonging to the logistics-giant Mediterranean Shipping Company collided within the port’s confines and containers holding 49 tonnes of nurdles went over the side.

Five days after the storm, local residents noticed that millions of plastic nurdles were washing up on beaches.

Ecological ‘nightmare’ after nurdles spill

People started to call the regional environmental agency to complain but it was already too late – billions of these plastic pieces had already flowed out of the channel which leads to the sea.

Sobantu Tilayi, who is the chief operating officer of South Africa’s Maritime Safety Authority, told us that the consequences of the spill came as a shock.

“We all work under standard operating procedures and we know what do when there is oil or explosives (but) nobody could tell what to do with nurdles. We didn’t even know these things behave like this.”

By behaviour, he means speed of movement. According to figures provided by NGO Wild Oceans, nurdles packed into two containers which fell off the MSC Susanna have now moved as far north as the border with Mozambique and all the way south to Cape Town.

Durban Harbour with the MSC Susanna in the background which was carrying the containers
The MSC Susanna, seen in the background, was carrying the containers of nurdles

For hundreds of clean-up crews now charged with scrapping them off the coastline, it is the ultimate environmental nightmare.

We watched several hundred people tackle a stretch of coast line north of Durban near a place called Mtunzini and we soon noticed that the sand, pools and marsh lands were saturated with them.

As soon as one person tried to scoop half-a-dozen or so up, they were replaced by another gaggle of slippery, silvery pellets.


Oodles of nurdles: What are they and why so bad?

The clean-up operation benefits from a highly-capable leader. Captain Nicolas Sloane, who helps run an organisation called Resolve Marine, is the man who righted the Costa Concordia back in 2013 but this nurdle crisis is a real test.

“We clean up one beach. It looks perfect (then) we have a spring tide, the sand migrates and blow me down, there they are again. It is not easy, and you cannot get despondent. We are recovering product.”

But there is a long, long way to go. Of the 49 tonnes which spilt in the water, only 11 tonnes have been recovered – 23% of the total – and realistically, much of it will never be retrieved.

For environmentalists like Dr Andrew Venter, it is an unmitigated disaster. “We could be cleaning up in two or three years’ time and we still won’t recover all 49 tonnes of that particular load. It’s not going to happen.”

Only 23% of the spilled pellets have been found
Only 23% of the spilled pellets have been recovered

The repercussions for marine and bird life could be disastrous he says with multiple species misjudging toxin absorbing nurdles for food.

“From an environmental perspective, it is worse than an oil spill because (nurdles) won’t break down. They last forever.”

Dr Venter admits he had never heard of nurdles until last October but they pose a problem that he – as well as government officials, shipping executives, their insurers and the South African public at large – will be grappling with for many years to come.

A spokesperson for Mediterranean Shipping Company said: “MSC has proactively led the clean-up of South Africa’s beaches and we remain committed to the operation as long as required.”

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Prince Harry and Meghan meet top UN official amid world leaders’ gathering in New York | World News



Prince Harry and Meghan have met with a top UN official during the world body’s biggest annual gathering.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited the UN headquarters in New York to speak with deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed.

Ms Mohammed said they discussed “how to engage on issues we care about deeply”, such as vaccine equity, climate action, the economic empowerment of women, youth engagement and mental wellbeing.

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Harry and Meghan pay respects at 9/11 memorial

“It was a lovely meeting,” Meghan said afterwards.

The UN said Ms Mohammed welcomed the couple’s work to address the organisation’s 17 sustainable development goals, which were created in 2015 and include objectives like ending hunger and poverty, achieving gender equality and combating climate change.

The trio met ahead of their scheduled appearances at the Global Citizen concert in Central Park later on Saturday.

The star-studded, 24-hour event aims to encourage climate action and urge wealthier countries to share one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines with other nations.

Billie Eilish and Ed Sheeran are among the musicians expected to headline the festival, which features performances in cities including New York, London and Sydney.

Tens of thousands of people are set to attend, with millions likely to tune in to the broadcast.

Prince Harry and Meghan are due to speak at the event in New York as part of their first major public trip since quitting as senior royals.

Earlier this week they visited the city’s memorial for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the state’s governor, Kathy Hochul, joining them.

United Nations, New York, USA, September 23, 2021 - Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed briefs journalists on the UN Food Systems Summit.Today at the UN Headquarters in New York City. Photo by: Luiz Rampelotto/EuropaNewswire/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
UN deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed said they discussed ‘how to engage on issues we care about deeply’. Pic: AP

The UN is currently hosting the annual general assembly of world leaders, who have been discussing efforts to fight climate change and COVID-19.

Meghan has been involved with the UN women’s agency for several years, acting as “advocate for political participation and leadership”.

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Were Prince Harry and Meghan cut off financially?

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were among those chosen as Time magazine’s 100 most influential people last week.

Last year, the couple stepped down from royal duties, moving to California and launching their Archewell Foundation.

They have previously supported other Global Citizen initiatives, acting as campaign chairs for a Vax Live event in May which encouraged donations to Covax, an initiative working to provide vaccines for low and middle-income countries.

In a speech he made on stage, Prince Harry called for coronavirus jabs to be “distributed to everyone everywhere”.

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German election: Voters want fresh leadership even if many seem unconvinced by the options | Politics News



They’re already putting Angela Merkel out to pasture at the Tussauds waxworks in Berlin, decking her out in clothes to go hiking, which the chancellor says she wants to do more of when she’s retired.

Mrs Merkel has been chancellor for 16 years.

Madam Tussaud’s studio assistant Karen Fries says it will be strange when she is gone.

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Germany election: What’s at stake?

“It’s going to be weird, yes, because it’s now 16 years and we are not used to getting along without her, but we’ll see.”

The same sentiments are around the corner at the Brandenburg Gate.

Another race was under way ahead of the election: rollerbladers gathering to speed around the route of the marathon that is run this weekend.

“Both of us, we are 23,” two young bladers told us. “We just know Angela Merkel. So I think an era comes to an end.”

Another man told us none of the candidates can replace her: “No, they are too weak.”

Is this just another country’s election or one we should all be interested in?

Madam Tussaud's studio assistant Karen Fries says it will be strange when she is gone
Madam Tussaud’s studio assistant Karen Fries says it will be strange when Angela Merkel is gone

Angela Merkel was called the leader of the free world, a moniker she herself thought was absurd. But it gives a sense of the void she may leave in these uncertain times.

Mrs Merkel has been credited with steering Germany through numerous crises but critics say she did not do enough to see them coming or warn Germans about others on their way.

Matthew Karnitschnig, Politico’s chief Europe correspondent, says: “The problem is that Merkel has shielded the population for a very long time from the realities of what’s going on in the world.”

angela merkel wax statue in madame tussauds
A wax figure of Angela Merkel is going on display in Germany

Mrs Merkel was more of an administrator than a leader, he says, and has left one key question unanswered for her successors to address.

The way they do could have ramifications far beyond Germany.

“What’s at stake, really, is what role Germany is going to play in the world,” he says.

“Does Germany want to be a real player on the world stage, or does it want to act more like a giant Switzerland in the middle of Europe, trying to be all things to all people?”

Matthew Karnitschnig, Politico's chief Europe correspondent
Matthew Karnitschnig, Politico’s chief Europe correspondent, says Mrs Merkel was more of an administrator than a leader

Germany after Mrs Merkel will be under pressure from America to take on Russia more and be a more useful partner within the EU.

For Europe’s largest country and richest economy, it has not punched at its weight in the minds of many in Washington and elsewhere.

Others agree that Mrs Merkel cossetted Germans and protected them from global realities too much.

Green MEP Sergei Lagodinski, who helped write his party’s foreign policy, told Sky News: “I do hope very much that after this very comfortable sleep that we had with a very comforting leader who actually drove us and directed us quite good through a couple of crises, we need now to wake up not only to survive crisis and get back to the business as usual, but try to reimagine both Germany and Europe in this new age.”

Green MEP Sergei Lagodinski,
Green MEP Sergei Lagodinski says Germany needs to be reimagined

The world and Germany are very different now than 16 years ago when Merkel first came to power.

Climate change, populism and artificial intelligence are all challenges that need proactive leadership, arguably not a strength of Mrs Merkel’s.

“I think it’s tremendously important, not just for Germany but for Europe,” Mr Lagodinski says.

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German voters take to the polls

“We have a situation where we have a change in terms of who’s going to lead Germany but also we have a totally changed global situation.”

There is the sense of an era coming to an end on the eve of this important election.

In the dusky light of a warm September evening, the voters we spoke to seemed relaxed about the future but conflicted too.

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Germany’s election: The end of Merkel

They want change but also continuity.

There is a yearning for stability with such a familiar figure bowing out and in such unpredictable times. But 16 years is a long long time to have one leader, we have been told repeatedly.

Germany and the world have new challenges to take on and new demons to fight, and voters want fresh leadership even if many seem unconvinced by the line-up they have to choose from.

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Dean Berta Vinales: Fifteen-year-old World Superbike star dies after crash during race in Spain | World News



Fifteen-year-old motorcyclist Dean Berta Vinales has died following a crash at a World Superbike Championship race in Jerez, Spain.

After 11 laps in the Supersport 300 support race, the Spanish athlete crashed at the second turn, along with three other riders.

He suffered severe head and spinal injuries and was treated by medical crews who arrived on the scene, World Superbike said.

They attended to him on the track, in an ambulance and at the circuit medical centre.

“Despite the best efforts of the circuit medical staff, the Medical Centre has announced that Berta Vinales has sadly succumbed to his injuries,” World Superbike said.

The race was red-flagged by the director and cancelled, along with the rest of Saturday’s action.

Vinales was MotoGP rider Maverick Vinales’s cousin and he rode for his uncle’s Vinales Racing Team.

In a statement on social media, Vinales Racing Team said it was “devastated”.

MotoGP said on Twitter: “We’re devastated by the tragic loss of @DeanBerta21 following a crash in #WorldSSP300 Race 1 today.

“Sending all our love and strength to Maverick Vinales and Dean’s entire family, his team and loved ones.”

Six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez wrote: “Rest in peace Dean. All my support to family and friends.”

World Superbike said Vinales was “enjoying a recent run of good form” in his rookie season in the FIM Supersport 300 World Championship, coming in fourth in Race 2 at the Magny-Cours circuit and sixth in Race 2 at the Barcelona-Catalunya track.

He had set the fastest lap in Race 1 and the organisation said he was “showing great potential”.

The tragedy is the latest in a series of crashes that have claimed the lives of young riders.

Fourteen-year-old Hugo Millan died after crashing at a race in Alcaniz, Spain in July, while Swiss Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier, 19, died in May from injuries he sustained in a three-bike crash during a qualifying session at the Mugello circuit in Italy.

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