British woman rowing across the Indian Ocean

British ocean rower Roz Savage just can’t seem to stay at home. The adventurous 43-year old has already conquered both the Atlantic and Pacific, and now has her sights squarely set on rowing across the Indian Ocean as well. She set out from Fremantle, Australia yesterday and is now making her way to Mumbai, India in a voyage that is expected to cover more than 4000 miles and take four and a half months to complete.

Roz wasn’t always an adventurer. Like many of us, she had a regular job, a house in the suburbs, and a bit of a mundane life. Sometime in her mid-30’s however, she discovered that she wanted something more, and set out on her first big adventure – rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. In 2005, she became the first woman to accomplish that feat solo, and it only inspired her to want to row some more. In 2008, she embarked on a successful three-stage, three-year solo row of the Pacific Ocean as well. In all, Savage estimates that she has rowed over 11,000 miles, using 3.5 million oar strokes, and has spent nearly a year of her life alone on the water.

All that time out at sea has provided Roz with a new found appreciation for our planet, and the oceans in particular. That has turned her into a tireless environmentalist who believes that the overall health of the Earth is directly influenced by the health of the oceans. She is hoping to convey that message to the world while she toils away on her latest voyage.

Despite the fact that she already has plenty of experience on the open water, Roz has taken steps to be extra cautious on this journey. On her previous expeditions for instance, she provided a “Roz Tracker” on her website to allow others to follow her progress online. This time out, she has removed that option to keep pirates operating in the area from knowing her whereabouts. She is also keeping her exact final destination a secret as well, for the same reason.

If she successfully crosses the Indian Ocean, Roz will have completed the “Big Three” of rowing. But that doesn’t seem to have put a damper on her plans for the future. Her website suggests that she’s already planning another crossing of the Atlantic in 2012, this time going from the U.S. to the U.K.

Like I said, she clearly doesn’t like to stay home.

[Photo credit: Roz Savage]

Piracy reached record levels in 2010

Pirate hijackings in the Red Sea and nearby waters reached their highest levels ever, the Associated Press reports.

Pirate hijackings worldwide claimed 1,181 hostages and 53 vessels, a rise of ten percent since 2009. Of these, 49 ships were taken by Somali gunmen in the Red Sea or nearby waters in the Indian Ocean. Somali piracy has been the biggest problem area despite an international fleet of warships trying to stop it. Somalis have taken four more ships so far in 2011 and currently hold 31 ships and 713 people captive.

Somali pirates generally use speedboats to come up alongside freighters, tankers, or smaller ships and then threaten to open fire if the captain doesn’t stop. The pirates then board the vessel and radio in a ransom demand that can amount to millions of dollars. Prisoners are generally not hurt, although eight were killed last year. Usually the ransom is paid.

Because naval vessels have been able to stop some attacks near the Somali coast, pirates have moved operations further into the Indian Ocean where they’re harder to catch. Other problem areas include Nigerian, Bangladeshi, and Indonesian waters.

Somali pirates claim they have been forced into piracy because their fishermen have been pushed out of work by illegal fishing by foreign vessels and illegal dumping of toxic waste by big corporations.

If you’re worried about piracy, stay away from the Red Sea area, and check out our handy tips on what to do if pirates board your ship.

[Photo courtesy Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky , U.S. Navy.]

What to do if pirates board your cruise ship

It’s not often that we get stories of pirates boarding cruise ships. Our friends at AOLTravel had one the other day though that caught our attention. When Somali pirates stalked a cruise ship in the Indian ocean recently, we’re told that “Passengers decked out for a black tie dinner on a British cruise ship on the Indian Ocean were told to hide below decks when a speed boat allegedly carrying Somali pirates came alongside the ship.”

Everything turned out fine in that case but you can bet that some passengers were wondering what might happen if things went badly.

A cool epilogue for that story, the latest lazer weapons may be the trick to ridding the world of real-life pirates. Apparently they work a lot like if a jet fighter pilot attacks from the direction of the sun. The glare from the lazer is so brilliant that it is impossible for pirates to aim weapons in the direction of ships using them. Yeah, like I said: cool.

Major cruise lines catering to US passengers stay clear of waters where pirate activity is noticed anyway though. Almost always when the subject of safety at sea comes up, some common-sense tips can protect us from hazards, most of which happen on the ship, not on pirate-infested waters.

  • Leave valuables at home. You don’t need the diamond tiara for formal night.
  • Sexual assault is the most common cruise-ship crime. Follow good-sense rules like never leaving drinks unattended. Don’t travel alone if you can avoid it.
  • Protect your health too. Noro-virus on cruise ships is common. Wash hands frequently. Avoid using hand rails on staircases, buttons on elevators and pretty much all buffets.
  • Keep your eyes open. You’d do it in Paris, London, or any other travel destination in the world. A cruise ship too is a destination these days and the bigger they get the more like cities they are. Get that many humans in one place and bad stuff is bound to happen at some time or another.

Those common sense tips are important and easy to understand. Some elements of a cruise vacation are a bit harder to get used to, rarely come up, but can have serious implications on how on-board incidents are handled.

  • Most cruise ships are foreign-flagged. Because of that, they are subject to only some US laws. Workplace employment laws, for example, do not apply. Not that the cruise lines are abusing the crew out of your sight, but workplace regulations on US soil don’t apply. When you hear that the captain of the ship is the “master of the vessel” believe it. At sea, that captain can be judge and jury for most matters that pertain to the safety of the ship, passengers and crew.
  • When a crime happens, the law followed depends on where the ship is. A crime happening in port is easy, those are subject to the laws of whatever land the ship is in. At sea, the country that governs those waters steps in. Far out at sea, international maritime law applies.

Still, state-side maritime attorneys chase after cruise ships looking for justice that is sometimes escapable by cruise lines in international waters.

Your best bet on what to do if pirates board your ship?

Get out your camera. It’s far more likely that you are on a sailing of a Disney cruise ship and that pirate is Captain Jack Sparrow acting out a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Flickr photo by Rev Stan