Caribbean Tsunami test hopes to save lives

Caribbean Tsunami test
It was planned long before the earthquake-turned-tsunami event in Japan to test the readiness of 33 Caribbean countries in the region’s first full-scale tsunami warning exercise. On Wednesday, March 23, a fictitious earthquake of 7.6 magnitude occurred off the coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Bulletins were issued by the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island and by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii for the rest of the area and the test was underway.

The Caribbean tsunami test, named Caribe Wave 11 did not involve communities but aimed to test the effectiveness of alert, monitoring and warning systems among all the emergency management organizations throughout the region. The test was designed to determine whether Caribbean countries are ready to respond in the event of a dangerous tsunami. Results will be reported in April.

“The earthquake and tsunami that have devastated Japan have shown how essential alert systems are,” said Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general.

The countries that attended the tsunami alert exercise are: Aruba, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France (Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, Guyane), Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands (Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Curacao and Sint Marteen), Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom (Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos), and the United States.

Over the past 500 years, there have been 75 tsunamis in the Caribbean, which is about 10 percent of the world total during that period, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Tsunamis caused by earthquakes, landslides or volcanoes have caused 3,5000 deaths in the region since the mid-1800s

Flickr photo by Axion23

10 breeds of pirate – Somalis to Vikings to Japanese Pirate Ninjas


A yacht carrying a quartet of Americans was recently seized by Somali pirates, the latest in a string of hijackings that reaches back millenia. According to MSNBC, the seized yacht, the “S/V Quest,” is owned by Jean and Scott Adam – a couple on a worldwide quest distributing bibles. While they no doubt expected to spread the word far and wide, they were certainly not expecting to be boarded by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman in the Arab sea. The waters along the horn of Africa are a hotbed of piracy, and travelling by boat in this region is about as reckless as booking a 2 week holiday in Mogadishu.

The Somali pirates are the modern day face of an enterprise that has existed for centuries. Piracy has been part of seafaring culture since man first took to the open water. As early as 1400 BC, Lukka sea raiders from Asia Minor began committing acts of piracy throughout the Mediterranean. These early pirates were known simply as the “Sea Peoples.” Aside from these early innovators of seaward sabotage, many groups and clans have sailed under the banner of terror on the high seas. The Vikings innovated the craft, the Barbary corsairs elevated it to an art, and the pirates of the Caribbean made it famous. Many other groups, operating in the shadows of history, took to piracy on the high seas. From dark age plundering to modern day terrorism, some of these groups of pirates include:The Vikings
Hailing from Scandinavia, the Vikings pillaged much of western Europe and northern Africa. The Norsemen covered a range from Russia to Newfoundland in their graceful longships, and pioneered piracy in the middle ages. They were the original world explorers – helmeted plunderers with a thrist for adventure.

The Wokou
Around the same time Vikings were wreaking havoc in Europe, these Japanese pirates, known as Wokou, began terrorizing the Chinese and Korean coast. Most of these pirates were Ronin, merchants, and smugglers. Allegedly, some were even ninjas, throwing a paradoxical spin on the classic “pirate versus ninja” debate. Why choose when you can just be both?

Barbary Corsairs
In response to the moors being ran out of Europe, many took up residence in northern Africa. Some of these displaced seamen became pirates and raided towns and vessels in Spain, Italy, France, and beyond. The infamous Redbeard, Oruc Reis, was a notable Barbary Corsair, and sacked many coastal Italian towns.

Madagascar Pirates
Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar was a lawless place during the golden age of pirate pirateering. Since no European countries colonized Madagascar, the island was an ideal spot for pirates to lay low and plot the next heist. Allegedly, the pirate utopia of “Libertalia” was located on Madagascar. According to pirate lore, “Libertalia” was a communist colony governed by pirates for pirates, where all shared in the booty.

Orang Laut
Originally from the Spice Islands and settling in modern day Malaysia, these sea gypsies began raiding the strait of Malacca over 500 years ago. Eventually, they fell into a protective role, policing the waters for the Sultanates of Johor and Malacca. Unlike many pirates that called solid ground home, the Orang Laut lived exclusively on the water.

Classical Carribean Pirates
The pirate cliche is the Caribbean pirate, and the spokesperson is Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean. The Caribbean pirate era began when Aztec gold bound for Spain was seized by pirates in the early 16th century. This escalated into the golden age of pirateering in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most Caribbean pirates came from European origins.

Bugi Pirates of Sulawesi
The term boogeyman originated from the orchid shaped island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. The Bugi pirates of southern Sulawesi were so feared that Dutch and English sailors brought home tales of horror to scare misbehaving children. The Bugianese were among the first to explore Papua New Guinea and northern Australia.

Sea Dayak of Borneo
Notorious headhunters, the sea dayaks terrorized the waters of the South China Sea, targeting vessels passing from Hong Kong to Singapore. In the mid nineteenth century, James Brooke and an army of Malays wiped out many of these pirates. Today, these people are known as the Iban and live in the old rainforests of Borneo.

Chinese Pirates
The most powerful pirate ever was a Chinese woman. In the early 19th century, an ex-prostitute namedpirate Cheng I Sao commanded a fleet of more than 1,500 ships – larger than many navies. According to CNN, she was an adept business person and controlled her fleet via a proxy named Chang Pao. She developed spy networks, created economic agreements with mainland farmers for supplies, and generally revolutionized the piracy business model. Her crews stalked the waters of the South China Sea.

Somali Pirates
The modern pirate hails from Somalia – a crossroads of the derelict. With more warlords than laws, Somalia is a disaster state. The government has been more a fleeting idea than a real thing for the last 20 years, and it shows. Warlords control fleets that operate out of coastal towns, amassing ships, arms, and wealth. The pirates use small boats and assault rifles to board both passenger and cargo ships, taking hostages, booty, or both.

Piracy causes roughly $15 billion in losses worldwide per year. The most trafficked areas for modern day piracy include the South China Sea, the Gulf of Aden (off the horn of Africa), the Niger Delta, and the infamous Strait of Malacca.

flickr image via cesargp

Cruise Scam Watch: The $99 cruise

cruise scamIs it real or is it a fake? That’s the big question that comes up when we hear of a $99 cruise. Short answer: If it comes directly from a cruise line, yes, it probably is true. You’ll pay port charges, taxes and government fees on top of that but those prices do exist. If it comes from anyone else, beware; this might be a scam.

We’ll get to the real scammers in a minute. First though, let’s look at a real-life example of cruise pricing that may appear to be misleading but really is not. It’s important to know the difference between the two.

Real cheap fares are often last-minute deals and you’ll have to sail in the next 30 to 90 days to get them. Cruise lines do that to fill up ships rather than sail with empty cabins. Other cheap fares like Carnival Cruise Line’s Early Saver Fare, are for sailings far in advance. These have restrictions, much like a discounted airline ticket.

That Early Saver fare is one of the best values around, no scamming involved but can be hard to tie down on our own. For example, right now the line is advertising fares starting at $169 for a 3-day cruise. That’s a great value.

Let’s play along and see what happens when we try to find that $169 price advertised on Carnival’s web site today as that sure catches ones eye.

Going to we look for special pricing and see that $169 price. We click for “details” and find that $169 price is no place to be found and the low price that jumps off the page is now $209. “That’s OK” we say, let’s play along. So we click on View Sailings by that $209 price and get 74 pages of cruises to look through. Our confidence is restored a bit as we see prices less than that $209 and finally find the $169 price.

Cruise lines commonly offer a price that is restricted to one or two sailings out of the hundreds of choices we might find.

There’s really nothing wrong here and Carnival is not trying to take advantage of us, it’s just clever marketing but totally legitimate. They actually did have that $169 fare. Clicking around you’ll run into the same situation on pretty much any major cruise line website.

It’s a rather complicated process that we get used to really fast which opens the door for the crooks to come in.

This would be a good reason to use a travel agent who can help navigate through the maze of choices. Still, Carnival is an honest company, selling an actual product. Not all travel sellers are.

cruise scamYou’re a winner!
The booking scams often come in the form of sweepstakes winners. You’re at a public event that features booths of information and are encouraged to sign up for a chance to win a free cruise. All you have to do is pay a $99 processing fee. You and a friend can go on a fabulous cruise vacation for just that small fee.

There are a lot of different versions of the “Win a Free Cruise” scam and probably always will be as long as cruises are popular. At the very least these are ways companies collect your personal information which you really don’t need everyone having. On the darker side, there is no free cruise for anyone and/or that small processing fee you was the gateway used by crooks to steal your identity. Just say no on this one.

Still, cruise lines do give charitable organizations free cruises to raffle off for fund-raising so if the source of the free cruise is your church, it’s probably safe.

The travel agency went broke
By now you’re probably getting the idea that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t” which surely applies to some travel sellers. A good case in point is Cruise Value Center, a one-time major player in the online booking world that went broke. In this case, it was believed and entirely possible that passengers who had booked cruises and made final payments might not have actually been confirmed on those sailings and the money they paid not passed along to the cruise lines. Yikes! Unsuspecting and trusting consumers out for that rock-bottom low price at all costs could and did get easily caught up in the whole mess.

The cruise line went broke
Just last September Cruise West, a small line from Seattle best known for Alaska voyages suspended bookings after a long series of financial problems. consumers here were left without much recourse either.

Pyramid Schemes
This scam often involves an “amazing business opportunity” for you that can result in discounted or free travel with very little work on your part. Those targeted here are usually people who have been on a cruise or two already and really liked it.

The idea that fuels this scam is that “everybody knows somebody” who might like to go on a cruise. Who better to buy a cruise from than a trusted friend? Along comes XYZ Travel Company who will teach you all about it for $499. For that fee, they promise to provide good training and set you up with the latest tools for booking cruises. All you really have to do is get your friends to buy from you. In return, you get discounted or free travel.

The problem here, and one that has caused cruise lines to stop accepting bookings from companies like this in the past, is that the “training” is inadequate and your title of “travel agent” is meaningless. Legitimate travel agents go through extensive training and will have verifiable letters after their name like CTC, ACC, MCC, or ECC from real accredited organizations.

How to avoid getting caught up in these cruise scams:

  • Never pay with cash or a check, always pay with a credit or debit card. You are afforded some protection there if things go badly.
  • Buy travel insurance from a third party, not the travel agency or cruise line.
  • Use a trusted travel agent. Don’t have one? Ask a trusted friend, relative or co-worker who does or see our tips on finding one.
  • Always insist that payments be made directly to the cruise line. There is no reason for a travel agency to hold your money. You should see the name of your cruise line, not the travel agency, on your card statement.
  • If you want to be a travel agent selling cruises, start with a professional organization like Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) or the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) who can provide guidance.

Flickr photos by liss_mcbovxla and the Italian voice

Daily Pampering: Curtain Bluff Resort’s honeymoon packages from $4200

curtain bluffThis luxury Caribbean resort is kicking things off in 2011 with a package for the lovers.

Curtain Bluff, one of the Caribbean’s favorite luxury all-inclusive beach resorts and a Condé Nast reader’s choice pick for the past three years, is offering honeymoon packages through May 14, 2011. This daily pampering comes with a lot of pampering! The 4-night package includes:

  • 3 meals a day
  • bar drinks
  • most water sports including motorized and non motorized water sports
  • use of the gym including aerobic, pilates, yoga and aquatic classes
  • use of tennis courts and squash court
  • round trip town car pick up
  • bottle of champagne in room upon arrival
  • private dinner in romantic garden gazebo
  • couples Destressor massage in our spa
  • sunset sail on 49 foot sailboat

You’ll spend time along the resort’s two stunning beaches, enjoy nightly entertainment, and take a peek at the resort’s 25,000 bottle wine cellar.

The cost of this romantic getaway starts at $4200 for a deluxe room; $5052 for a junior suite; or $7220 for the Grace/Morris Bay suite. Extra nights are available if you find yourself lost in paradise.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Daily Pampering: Unlimited wine for ladies at Sugar Ridge Antigua

Sugar Ridge Antigua Pool
Sugar Ridge Antigua
wants to host your “Girlfriends Getaway” and is totally trying to entice you with wine. I feel okay with that, don’t you?

Ladies booking the Girlfriends Getaway package, a four-night all-inclusive, will get two one-hour massages per person, free breakfast, lunch and dinner (none of that “choose two meals and suffer” nonsense), and unlimited wine and house beverages. If you’ve ever wanted to do a trip with your gal pals but felt you would all eat and drink yourselves into the poor house, you should jump at this!

So, what are you going to do while you’re not drinking wine (or, let’s face it, while you’re drinking wine)? Well, you can lounge by the infinity pool above — which also has a view of the ocean, but I liked this shot of the rolling green hills better — or your can put down your glass and take the complimentary shuttle to the white, powdery sand beach, head to the Jolly Harbor Marina for boating excursions, tennis, squash and golf, or go on a historical trek to Nelson Dockyard and Shirley Heights.

The cost is reasonable for all it includes, at “$1,120 per person for a single occupancy room and $920 per person for double occupancy for a minimum of two rooms.” The offer is valid for travel through September 18, 2010.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.