Piracy reached record levels in 2010

pirate, pirates, piracy, Somalia, Somali, Red sea, red sea
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.]

Australia floods leave tourist industry in peril

Brisbane, brisbane, Australia, australia
The terrible floods in Queensland, Australia, have destroyed thousands of homes, done billions of dollars of damage, and have left at least a dozen people dead. Queensland is a major coal exporter, and with the rising waters hampering shipments and flooding mines, world coal prices have risen. A major consumer of Queensland coal are Asian steel mills, which are already feeling the pinch. This has led to a rise in steel prices. That’s a double dose of bad news for the economic recovery.

Another Queensland industry has also been hard hit–tourism. The tourists have fled along with the residents, but it’s the long-term effects that are more harmful. If rising coal and steel prices hurt the economic recovery, that’s bound to hurt the tourism industry pretty much everywhere. Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, is the center for Australia’s Gold Coast, a major draw for Australia’s $32 billion tourist industry. Floods are damaging popular beaches and will require costly repairs. Coastal and riverside hotels and shops are being destroyed. The Brisbane Times reports that toxic materials washed into the sea could have an effect on delicate coral reefs and fish populations. With snorkeling and scuba diving such popular activities on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, this could do long-term damage to tourism.

Meanwhile, airlines are worried about how this will affect them. Virgin Blue has already seen its shares drop by 3.4 percent today because investors fear there will be a drop in bookings. Qantas shares also dipped slightly. Airlines are issuing fee waivers for passengers who want to change their flights to, from, or through Brisbane.

It looks like Queensland residents will suffer from the flood long after the waters recede.

[Photo of Brisbane sunset courtesy user t i m m a y via Gadling’s flickr pool]

The stinking streets and subways of Seoul

Seoul, South Korea
Look, it’s been a long time since I got off the 4 Line at Samgachi Station – a dozen years, in fact – but I remember it being rather clean and pleasant. The train itself was, too. Well, I guess I was wrong. I now have it on good authority saw on the internet that Seoul is “well known to the world as heavily polluted.”

Yep, that’s what you’ll find in North Korean geography textbooks.

According to The Chosun Ilbo:

North Korean geography textbooks, the main source of information for students there about South Korea, distort or disparage South Korea’s economic development by way of exalting the North Korean system, an academic here says.

And it doesn’t stop there. The books accuse South Korea of producing goods at the behest of the United States and Japan. This is a big problem up north, because “[r]elying on others for raw materials and fuel is like leaving your economic fate in their hands.” This stands in stark contrast to the North Korean “Juche” philosophy, which preaches self-reliance.

So, if you head to the “den of reactionaries,” brace yourself for a real stench. But, if you’re planning to go to the place the rest of us know as Seoul, you’ll probably be fine.

[photo by Koshyk via Flickr]

Good Beach Guide names best British beaches

The United Kingdom generally isn’t the first place people think of when they decide to go to the beach. Indeed, the beaches of Spain, France, and Cyprus are filled with lobster-red Brits, so it appears the locals agree, but the Good Beach Guide, published by the Marine Conservation Society, says the UK’s beaches are improving, at least in terms of water quality.

The latest report reveals that 421 of the UK’s 769 beaches have “excellent” water quality, up 33 from last year. In addition, fewer beaches are getting a failing grade. This is a positive trend after heavy rainfall in the past three years made sewage systems overflow and sloughed off fertilizers and agrochemicals from farmland.

The UK can’t sit on their laurels, though, because starting in 2015 the EU is going to enact tougher standards for water purity, and many beaches that are now borderline cases will get failing marks. The BBC has published an interactive map showing what regions do best. Of the two most famous beaches, Blackpool didn’t get the highest “MCS recommended” rating, but Brighton Pier did, which is interesting because the area recently elected the UK’s first Green Party Minister of Parliament.

Now if they could just do something about the weather. . .

Image of Blackpool beach courtesy zergo512 via Wikimedia Commons.

Plant a tree, help fight climate change


We live in a “Golden Age” of travel. Never before in history have so many people traveled so widely, easily, quickly or cheaply. But this convenience comes with a hidden price. All those vehicles that take us there – the planes and cars – play a significant role in the gradual warming of our planet. In honor of Earth Day, the Conservation Fund is offering a way for you to help.

Check out the Conservation Fund’s new video for a campaign called “Go Zero.” The project seeks to raise awareness of the amount of carbon each of us produces from activities like travel, offering a chance to offset our carbon emissions. The group is trying to get 10,000 new trees planted before the end of this year’s Earth Day. It couldn’t be more simple to help – just click the button “plant a tree” on the embedded video above if you’d like to donate. If you want to learn more, make sure to stop by Conservation Fund’s website and try out the Carbon Calculator to see what you can do to fight climate change.

Our lives have all been immeasurably enriched by travel – let’s make sure future generations have a chance to enjoy the same opportunities.