Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Update/Indian Ocean: Streak of Bad Luck Continues to Plague Costa Cruises

As a follow-up to my posting on February 27, Passengers aboard the Costa Allegra, owned by Costa Cruises, which is owned by Carnival, began today (February 29) without power and hot food on a stricken cruise-ship Costa cruise ship in the Indian Ocean, on Wednesday, as helicopters airlifted fresh bread to the liner under tow.

An engine room fire on the Costa Allegra neutralized the vessel's main power supply on Monday, disabling the engines in waters known to be an operating area for regional pirates.

COMMENT: At the moment, the ship is scheduled to arrive in Victoria in the Seychelles at approximately 0900 hours tomorrow (March 1). A French deep sea tuna trawler dwarfed by the liner, is pulling the Costa Allegra along at a speed of six knots. A military aircraft is also flying in support of the operation.

A team from Costa Cruises is expected to board the "Costa Allegra" later today to make arrangements for hotel accommodation and onward flights for the 636 passengers and 413 crew once they reach the Seychelles.

With no lights working aboard the ship whatsoever, the company has also reportedly provided hundreds of flashlights to passengers and crew members for illumination.

The passengers are from 25 different countries, with the largest groupings being from France with 127 passengers and 126 from Italy. There are also 38 Germans, 31 Britons, 13 Canadians and eight Americans aboard the vessel.

As is well-known, last week another Costa cruise-ship, the "Costa Splendor," had 22 of its passengers robbed at gunpoint while on a hike in Puerto Vallarta. Most noteworthy is the running aground of the "Costa Concordia," off the coast of Italy last month, claiming the lives of two dozen souls.

Carnival, which touts itself as being the largest cruise-ship line in the world, hopefully will begin to focus more on quality and safety of the cruise experience, rather than simply numbers on a spreadsheet.

It is also hoped that all of the passengers aboard the "Costa Allegra" receive a full refund for their cruising experience of a lifetime, at a minimum.

Update/Cambodia: Bus Company That Killed Russian Tourist Had History of Accidents

As a follow-up to my posting yesterday (February 28) concerning the Russian tourist, 23, who was killed and others seriously injured because of excessive speed and a blown-out tire, had a history of accidents involving fatalities in the past.

The accident occurred late Tuesday evening while the bus was traveling between the coastal resort town of Sihanoukville and Koh Kong town, which borders Thailand.

COMMENT: As reported yesterday, the driver of the Paramount Angkor Express fled the scene after the accident and is still missing. According to local media, the company’s buses were involved in at least four accidents last year [2011] that killed four people. Its sister company was involved in seven crashes in which six people died.

As mentioned yesterday and previously, bus travel in developing nations is a high-risk activity under the best of circumstances.

Although tourists, particularly those in a group, often want to travel by bus so they can chat and experience travel together, given the high rate of accidents of tour buses, this thinking may warrant reevaluation as to its value.

Update/Correction: Chinese Tourist, Local Translator Murdered by Pakistani Gunman

As a follow-up to yesterday's (February 28) posting, there were not two assailants who shot and killed Chinese tourist, Hua Jiang, 40, and Suleman Shams, 22, a Pakistani translator, but only one.

Additionally, the assailant was not on a motorbike, but on foot, who disappeared into a crowed market in Peshawar after gunning his targets down. According to witnesses, the assailant fired a total of three shots.

Ms. Hua, a student at the University of Beijing and was presently on a tour to the region. She had visas for Nepal, Cambodia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka on her passport. She arrived in Peshawar on February 26 and was staying at a hotel in Peshawar. Mr. Suleman was a student of the Government College University and resided in the city.

COMMENT: When the news story was first released in local and international media, it was incorrectly reported that there were two assailants, but eye witnesses corrected that inaccuracy.

As with most homicides, bombings and kidnappings in Pakistan, there rarely are arrests of those who actually committed such crimes, largely because most acts of violence are politically motivated.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thailand: ScandAsia Link Underlines Risks for Foreigners in Phuket

To reinforce what I've been saying of late about road safety and security risks in Phuket, please see the below link to an article entitled, "Record Breaking 33 Swedish Deaths in 2012 in Thailand," which refers to 33 Swedish tourists being killed in Phuket, during the first two months of 2012 alone.

Please also see the quote in the link from a Swedish expat who lives in Phuket, as evidence of many out-of-control tourists.

Chinese National, Pakistani Translator Murdered in Peshewar

A Chinese woman estimated to be about 40 and her Pakistani translator, Suleiman Shams, 22, were shot and killed earlier today (February 28) by two gunmen on motorbikes while walking in the Kohati bazaar in the historic center of the city. As this posting is filed, no motive is known for the attack.

Police found a Chinese passport with a Pakistani tourist visa inside, a laptop and a digital camera in the woman's tote bag. The attack on the Chinese woman and her translator was the fifth shooting or bombing in Pakistan's northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since Thursday (February 23).

COMMENT: Peshawar is a city of 2.5 million near the Afghan border and has long been front-and-center in terms of violence blamed on a five-year Taliban insurgency led by militants opposed to the Pakistani government's alliance with US. Nevertheless, due to a variety of factors, relations between the US and Pakistan is probably at its most distrustful stage in over ten years.

Shamsul Arifeen, the father of the Pakistani translator, said his son was on vacation from studying English literature at the prestigious Government College University in Lahore, and he had told him he was working as a translator.

As is commonly known, being a foreigner in Pakistan these days is not without considerable daily risks.

There have also been a number of foreigners kidnapped, beginning with US aid worker Warren Weinstein, 70, who was kidnapped from his home in Lahore in August 2011, and continues to be missing, with no confirmed knowledge of his whereabouts or condition. Ironically, Weinstein was kidnapped the day before he was scheduled to permanently leave Pakistan, suggesting that "inside" information led to his abduction.

Diplomats assigned to embassies and consulates are generally well-protected, but it is aid workers and those working for NGOs that are most at risk of being kidnapped or harmed by extremist elements.

Updates on the attack described above will be provided as new information becomes available. At this point, it is unknown as to what the Chinese woman was doing in Pakistan, although presumably the Chinese Embassy may know, but may or may not disclose the purpose of her visit.

Although relations between the People's Republic of China and Pakistan began in 1950, when Pakistan was among the first countries to break relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan and recognize the PRC.

Although China has by no means provided as much foreign assistance to Pakistan as has the US, it safe to assume that relationships between China and Pakistan are better than are those between the US and Pakistan. Additionally, it is also a fact that the PRC has assisted Pakistan in nurturing its nuclear capability.

Brazil: Mass-Robbery of Tourists While Hiking in National Park

Some 30 tourists were robbed on Sunday (February 26) by six gunmen while hiking in Tijuca National Park in the southern section of Rio de Janeiro.

At the time of the robbery, the group of tourists were on one of the trails leading to Pedra da Gavea, a monolith that rise more than 800 meters (2,622 feet) and offers impressive views of the city. Stolen items included mobile phones, purses, cash, cameras and jewelry.

COMMENT: A police officer in the tour group managed to escape and call for help, although a lingering question is why he did not repel the assailants if he was armed and had the opportunity to neutralize the situation. No arrests have been made.

Tijuca National Park, declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, offers magnificent views and includes Corcovado Mountain, home to the world famous Christ the Redeemer statue.

Increasingly, in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and other Latin American countries we are beginning to see with increasing frequency what can only be described as "mass armed robberies," particularly in rural areas where tourists in large groups can often be found.

Tourists are reminded that not knowing what can occur in a developing country, don't wear or carry anything that cannot be replaced. And, of course, NEVER resist an armed robbery of money or possessions are the objective. No property is worth your life.

Cambodia: Russian Woman, 23, Killed, Dozens of Tourists Injured in Bus Accident

A Russian woman, 23, was killed and dozens of foreign tourists were injured when their bus swerved and flipped onto its side after its front tire blew out earlier today (February 28) in Cambodia.

The vehicle crashed as it took 46 passengers, including 40 foreign tourists, from Cambodia’s popular seaside port of Sihanoukville to the Thai border.

COMMENT: The driver, who police believe was driving at an excessively high speed before the crash, fled the scene, a common occurrence in many developing countries.

A topic that I address in my book, STAYING SAFE ABROAD: TRAVELING WORKING AND LIVING IN A POST-9/11 WORLD, fatalism, stems from the belief system that the time of our death is preordained, and that prudent or imprudent choices have little to do influencing how long we are on Earth.

From my standpoint, I firmly believe and can prove time and time again through case studies that calamity can be averted by making good choices, rather than bad ones.

A good example of this includes many of the homicides I've covered in my postings where I have urged travelers NOT to resist an armed robbery. In the majority of cases those that do resist and jeopardize their lives over money or property, are often summarily killed.

Conversely, those that adhere to my advice usually live to enjoy life for many years to come.

Getting back to the bus crash, drivers such as the one who irresponsibly fled from the scene, had to have known at some level that he was endangering the lives of everyone on the bus that the time because of the speed at which he was driving. Unfortunately, though, it is doubtful that all of those tourists embraced fatalism as he did, yet the Russian tourist died anyway.

I've endeavored to try to impart the vulnerabilities of bus travel in developing countries in my countless postings and will continue to do so. Nevertheless, tourists riding buses in such countries should pay attention to the tread wear on tires, the smell of alcohol on the breath of drivers and should even demand that the driver slow down if driving at a dangerous speed.

Worst-case, ask the driver to let you off the vehicle before an "accident" occurs and hope that you carry a quad-band, unlocked cell phone with a local SIM card so you can call for help.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Indian Ocean: Sister Ship of "Costa Concordia" Without Power At Sea

According to the Associated Press (AP), A fire broke out in an engine room aboard the Costa Allegra earlier today (February 27) in the Indian Ocean, leaving the ship, which is a member of the same fleet as the Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the coast of Italy last month, without power and without hope of seeing land for perhaps at least another 24 hours.

Thus far, 2012 has not been kind to Carnival Cruise Lines, which owns and operates the Costa fleet – first the Costa Concordia ran aground in Italy and then just days ago (See my posting), the Costa Splendor had 22 of its passengers robbed at gunpoint while on a hike in Puerto Vallarta.

COMMENT: Costa Crociere SpA, which is owned by Carnival, reports that the "Costa Alegra," is adrift some 20 miles (12.5 kilometers) from Alphonse Island, one of the atolls in the Seychelles, a nation of islands and atolls that is a popular tourist destination.

Fortunately, Coast Guard boats and other cargo vessels are in the area if further help is needed.

Unfortunately, corporate greed has played a major role in getting the cruise-ship industry to where it is today.

Not only have ships gotten too large to safely manage voluminous passengers, but deficiencies have occurred on some ships in terms of conducting evacuation and emergency drills and increasingly, passenger density has contributed to frequent illnesses.

In the case of the "Costa Concordia,"the loss of life may well have been attributed to not adequately preparing passengers and crew members for an at-sea emergency. If anything, Carnival should have had protocols in place to prevent such a disaster.

For our readers who might be contemplating going on a cruise, I would suggest that choosing a cruise-ship should be based more on safety and security issues and the recommendations of friends who have actually taken a cruise on a particular line rather than be based on price, amenities or stateroom location.

For the benefit of our readers, I would suggest a review of the following websites:

Colombia: FARC to Give Up Ransom Kidnapping?

Attention was called yesterday (February 26) to the FARC's (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) announcement on its website whereby it said that it is abandoning the practice of ransom kidnapping and will soon free its last remaining captives.

First of all, why would the FARC, after some 40 years in its armed struggle, suddenly announce that it is giving up one its most lucrative profit centers, notwithstanding drug trafficking and extortion?

Admittedly, the 9,000-strong FARC has suffered some setbacks in the last few years, but that has always been the case. True, Colombia's largest armed rebel force sustained a major loss in November 2011 with the killing of its top commander, 63-year-old ideologue Alfonso Cano, when President Juan Manuel Santos ordered an attack on his camp in the southwestern department of Cauca.

Cano's death also followed the killing of another top FARC leader, Jorge Briceno, as well as the successful killings of other member of the FARC's leadership, such as Raul Reyes, the group's foreign minister, and co-founder, Manuel Marulanda, who died in a mountain camp of a heart attack.

COMMENT: Before any victory laps are scheduled, it would be appropriate for Colombian leaders to wait and watch to see whether the FARC means what it has said on its website and actually begins releasing kidnap victims. If not, then its website announcement has little substance.

Considering that the kidnapping or a foreigner in Colombia can easily bring US$1-5 million and after observing the FARC's tactics and operations over a 30-year period, I doubt very much they would give up this lucrative industry unless they are genuinely interested in peace talks with the Colombian government, which is yet to be seen.

Another consideration is that announcing that it is giving up ransom kidnapping could be a way of taking government pressure off of the FARC's operations, albeit short-lived.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

New Zealand: Canadian Family Involved in Fatal Accident, Wife Dies

A Canadian couple, accompanied by their adult daughter, were on a month-long tour of New Zealand in a camper-van, were involved in a fatal accident with a tractor-trailer on (February 22) when the husband, age 62, turned in front of the truck, killing his wife, 60. His daughter and the truck driver had superficial injuries.

The husband/father appeared before a judge in the Hamilton District Court earlier today (February 27) where he pleaded guilty on a charge of careless driving and lost his driving privileges for six months.

COMMENT: As I have said previously, it is never a good idea to drive in a foreign country, particularly when your home country is right-hand drive while the country you are visiting is left-hand drive (as in the case of New Zealand).

Additionally, it is indeed tragic that this Canadian family will be haunted by the events of their trip to New Zealand for the rest of their days, which claimed the life of their wife and mother.

Sadly, camper-vans are not particularly maneuverable under the best of circumstances; it is possible that the driver could not react quickly given his unfamiliarity with left-hand drive traffic patterns.

Criminals Relieve Japanese Rugby Team of Everything It Had in Auckland

Japan's touch rugby team, which was on its way to the ZM National Touch Championship in Palmerston North, had thirteen passports, wallets, iPods, mobile phones, laptops, cameras, boots and uniforms stolen in south Auckland on Friday night (February 24), while the team was having dinner at local restaurant.

When the team returned to their van and trailer, they discoverted the windows of the van had been smashed and the lock on the trailer severed.

COMMENT: What the team may not have known is that street crime is as much a problem in New Zealand as it is anywhere, if you do a search on my postings under "New Zealand."

Given the value of personal and team possessions plus their hard-to-replace team equipment, the team leadership should have retained the services of a reputable security company to ensure their precious cargo was safeguarded during transit to and from the games.

Update: Trial of 43 Defendants in Cairo Begins

As a follow-up to my posting yesterday (February 25), the trial of some 43 defendants made up of democracy advocates comprised of Americans, Germans, Egyptians, Norwegians and Serbs began earlier today (February 26), although only fourteen of those charged actually appeared in court. Those that did, all denied they had committed any crimes.

A prosecutor in the court in a Cairo suburb read out the charges against the defendants, saying their acceptance of illicit foreign funds had "detracted from the sovereignty of the Egyptian state."

Most of the remaining American defendants continue to reside at the US Embassy compound, although nine of them were able to get out of Egypt before their departure was banned.

COMMENT: Even though the Obama Administration has pulled out the "stops" and directed senior officials to reach out to their Egyptian government counterparts to quash the trial, it is clear the Egyptians were speaking from both sides of their mouths when they spoke with such officials.

To be kind, Egyptian officials who spoke with their American counterparts, were simply being polite. As with many things in life, "don't listen to what people say, but rather what they actually do."

Regrettably, President Obama is being far less consistent than Egyptian rulers are. The fact that President Obama has asked so many US leaders to attempt to make the trial go away, politically, is to ask them to politicize their own judiciary.

If the US Government had any fortitude at all, it would simply notify the Government of Egypt through a Diplomatic Note that the US$1+ billion aid package appropriated for Egypt is being permanently suspended unless the charges against all 43 defendants are dropped.

As we have seen in far too many cases (i.e., Iran, Syria, Iraq, etc.), Middle Eastern countries respect two traits: Consistency and Strength. President Obama, unfortunately, has displayed neither.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Egypt: Trial of 16 Americans, 27 Others Begins in Cairo on 2/26

The trial proceeding of 16 Americans and 27 others is scheduled to begin on Sunday (February 26) at a Cairo courthouse to determine complicity in a politically charged case linked to a government crackdown on nonprofit groups that has generated one of the deepest crises in US-Egyptian relations going back at least three decades.

The case, which involves American employees of four U.S.-based pro-democracy groups, is putting one of Washington's most critical relationships in the Middle East to an incredible test. At risk is the US threat to cut a US$1.5 billion annual aid package to Egypt if the issue is not amicably resolved.

Despite private efforts at all senior levels of the US Government to head off the commencement of this trial, the Obama Administration's effort to persuade the Egyptian leadership to reconsider their actions have proved unsuccessful.

COMMENT: Nor has the US taken preemptive action by formally notifying the Egyptian government that it has suspended any disbursements of appropriated funds BEFORE THE FACT. Worse, Egypt has accused the US of meddling in an internal matter.

Even personal visits to Cairo by Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey and Republican Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), have failed to budge the Egyptians from proceeding with the trial. Additionally, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had raised the matter twice in person with Egypt's foreign minister to no avail.

Seemingly, the Obama Administration is letting itself be "mousetrapped" by what is increasingly becoming a rogue state, where the Muslim Brotherhood holds considerable control in Parliament and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, President Obama has failed to act like a world leader in its dealings with Iran, Syria and even Iraq and seems to be sitting on the side-lines.

In Iran and Syria, the US has stood by and failed to support courageous pro-democracy protesters and in Iraq, it permitted itself to be thrown out by the Iraqis at a time when Iraq was not yet ready to protect its people, thus endangering rival factions and potentially the Middle East itself.

There are 43 defendants that will be tried beginning tomorrow: Sixteen Americans, sixteen Egyptians as well as Germans, Palestinians, Serbs and Jordanians. They have been charged with the illegal use of foreign funds to bolster unrest and operating without a license.

Yet, the Egyptian investigation fits into a broader campaign by Egypt's rulers against alleged foreign influence since the ouster of long-time President Hosni Mubarak last year [2011].

Another point that I have recently made is how could the US stand by and not broker amnesty for former President Mubarak, when he had been a loyal ally to the US for decades. Admittedly, he was corrupt and autocratic, but the same terms are easily used to describe many other world leaders. Ironically, his trial is nearing its end as the 43 defendants described above face their own trial.

It is pointless to debate whether the Egyptians have evidence against the 43 defendants, considering that this "trial" can only be characterized as political harassment. If anything, the motive of the Egyptian rulers is to "play to the crowd" that is the New Egypt and generate greater anti-Western sentiments.

Update: Pakistani Government Destroys Residence of Osama bin Laden

With little fanfare, the Pakistani government leveled the former three-level residence in Abbottabad (some 30 miles northeast of Islamabad) earlier today (February 25), rather than be forced into maintaining the late al-Qaeda leader's home as a tourist attraction.

COMMENT: The house legally belonged to a Pakistani who worked as bin Laden's courier and who was killed along with his brother in the May 2, 2011 raid by members of Seal Team 6.

Thailand: Swedish Tourist Falls From Hotel in Phuket, Dies

An unidentified Swedish tourist plunged from the third floor of a resort at Phuket's Karon Beach last night (February 24), dying later from head injuries. The cause of his fall is unknown as this posting is filed.
COMMENT: Falls from hotels in Thailand, unfortunately, are not that uncommon, largely because of the partying nature of many foreign tourists.

Although prudence and moderation are useful virtues to espouse, in practice they rarely are effective for those that refuse to embrace them.

This incident will be updated as new information becomes available.

Thailand: Australian Couple Involved in Motorcycle Crash in Phuket, Wife Dies

The wife of a an Australian tourist died earlier today (February 25) and her husband injured when the motorcycle they were riding at roughly 0330 hours inadvertently hit a vendor stall while descending Patak Road, the Karon Hill road, towards Chalong Circle.

Two Thais were also injured in the accident who were riding another motorcycle.

COMMENT: Police have not yet determined which of the Australians was in control of their motorcycle, although bystanders who witnessed the accident and took the Australian couple to Vachira Phuket Hospital in Phuket City noted a strong smell of alcohol and said the woman was not wearing a safety helmet.

The man seriously injured while riding the other motorcycle, Siriwat Patkor, is now being treated in Phuket International Hospital.

The vendor whose stall was hit by the couple,
Kewadee Jailak and was treated at Vachira Phuket and allowed to leave, said he could not afford the 2000 baht (US$65) medical bill.

As most of our readers know from my previous postings involving motorcycle and motorbike accidents in Phuket, the human carnage has been rising for months because of the continuing failures of the Thai government to crack down on the use of such vehicles.

Unfortunately, those who rent such vehicles out to inexperienced, unlicensed drivers and those who ride them without any concern for the safety of others (when they fail to wear safety helmets, obtain training on how to ride these vehicles and or who carelessly ride them while intoxicated), are both at fault.

Principally, though, it is the Thai government that looks the other way as long as tourist dollars flow into Phuket.

Latvia: Latvians Reject Making Russian a Second Official Language

Latvians voted overwhelmingly on Saturday (February 25) to reject a proposal to make Russian a second official language, in a referendum that has heightened ethnic tensions and sparked renewed criticism of the patriarch of the old Soviet Union.

Understandably, the vote was initiated by Latvia’s pro-Russian lobby, which says the large Russian-speaking minority has been denied equal rights since Latvia broke free from the Soviet Union in 1991.

COMMENT: With about 830 of 1,035 voting districts counted, results showed 76% against the proposal and 24% in favor of it. About one-third of the roughly 2 million population are Russian-speaking, though not all have the right to vote, largely because they have not passed the Latvian language test that is one of the requirements of citizenship.

Latvia regained its independence in 1991 after 50 years of Soviet rule. Post-independence laws were aimed at cutting Russian influence and boosting the Latvian language and culture. Among the Russian-speaking population, the vote was seen as a way to protest against measures that they say discriminate against them, such as the requirement to take Latvian language and history tests.

During 2002-2006, when I was responsible in delivering anti-terrorism training to a number of Central Asian nations, including such countries Georgia and Azerbaijan, they understandably insisted that translated materials and simultaneous interpretation of US instructors be in their native languages.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Philippines: Two French Tourists Lose Gold Necklaces to Snatch-and-Grabbers

Earlier this week, two female French tourists, while walking in the vicinity of Roxas Boulevard and P. Burgos St. in Ermita, Manila, had gold necklaces they wore ripped from their necks by two men who approached them asking for money, a typical pretense used by street criminals.

COMMENT: The two women, one 55 and the other 63, who were staying at the Picasso Hotel in Makati City, were preoccupied in looking at a map when the two men approached.

After asking for money, the suspects demanded their necklaces, at which point both women refused, only to have their necklaces forcibly pulled from their necks. The suspects then fled on foot.

As many of our regular readers will recall from my previous postings, wearing expensive or expensive-looking jewelry (i.e., watches, earrings, etc.) in developing countries with high rates of street crime (like the Philippines) is not a good idea.

It is not even a good idea for foreigners to wear "knock-off" or counterfeit watches with the Rolex brand, as at a distance, it is difficult to determine whether they're genuine or not.

Also, a dead giveaway to label oneself as a newcomer, is to be be looking at a map in public. Consequently, it is far better to look at maps in the safety of a hotel or coffee shop, rather than to subject oneself to being viewed by criminals.

Additionally, before leaving your hotel, ask for the help of the concierge to mark where you are are where you're wanting to go.

Mexico: 22 Carnival Passengers Robbed at Gunpoint in Puerto Vallarta

Some 22 cruise passengers on the Carnival Splendor, were robbed at gunpoint on Thursday (February 23) while participating in a ship-sponsored tour in Puerto Vallarta.

The mass robbery occurred when the passengers were returning by bus to their ship at roughly 1700 hours, after spending time in El Nogalito,
a tourist attraction which involves a hike in an area know to offer a wide variety of tropical flora and fauna.

Masked gunmen stopped the bus and robbed the passengers of their money, watches, cameras and other valuables.
A statement from Carnival said there were no injuries during the robbery and all passengers returned safely to the ship. As this posting is filed, no arrests have as yet been made.

COMMENT: As a positive gesture, Carnival is endeavoring to reimburse those passengers who were on the tour to be reimbursed for their stolen valuables and to help them to get replacements for their travel documents that were also stolen.

Needless to say, the cruise-line-sponsored tour to El Nogalito has been suspended. Unfortunately,
the criminal victimization of cruise passengers has caused several cruise-lines servicing Mexico to cancel certain ports-of-call, including Mazatlan.

As an example of the impact, in 2010 there were over 200 scheduled calls at Mexican ports and only a dozen or so thus far in 2012.

Update/Thailand: Consuls Complain About Treatment of Tourists in Phuket

A number of the honorary consuls serving Phuket are scheduled to meet with Phuket's Governor on Monday (February 27) in an effort to address continuing complaints concerning the manner in which tourists are treated locally.

COMMENT: Additionally, within a matter of weeks Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her cabinet are due to meet to discuss tourism in Phuket. Hence, these preliminary discussions are key to laying the groundwork for issues that need to be addressed.

Some of the issue that need resolution include safe public transportation and fare-gouging by taxis and tuk-tuks [samlors]. Another matter to be discussed is the appreciation of the baht in terms of how far tourist dollars, euros, etc. actually go.

Traveler's Update: Air Zimbabwe Suspends All Flights Indefinitely

Although it does not come as a huge surprise, Air Zimbabwe has suspended its entire air fleet indefinitely, after the latest revival effort collapsed this week.

The airline had hoped to return to the skies to this week, after its pilots walked off the job last year, saying their wages had not been paid. Air Zimbabwe had hoped to convince the pilots to return to work this week so that at least minimal service could be restored.

The carrier has been hit by a series of setbacks in recent years, including frequent strikes by its pilots and mounting debts as it has attempted to keep its aging (and increasingly unsafe) fleet in the air.

COMMENT: One of the carrier's airliners was impounded in London for more than two weeks last year over a US$1.2 million debt dispute with a US spares company, prompting the airline to suspend flights to South Africa over another debt of US$500,000, fearing creditors might impound other aircraft.

Update/Thailand: Virtual News Blackout in Case of Murdered US Businesswoman

It has often been said that once the public has been made aware of a tragic event by international and national media, it is already too late to suddenly impose a media blackout. Yet, that appears to be what is occurring in the brutal murder of Tampa-based American businesswoman Wendy Albano, 51, nearly two weeks ago. Please see my previous postings.

The last media coverage that contained any detail at all was on February 12, when Ms. Albano's boyfriend, Sang-Hvi Ritesh Nar-Patraj, 26, an Indian national, was seen on surveillance cameras leaving the Fraser Suites in Bangkok, where the couple had been sharing a room, only to later leave Bangkok Airport for points unknown.

Since then, there has been scant information released by anyone concerning the investigation.

COMMENT: If Nar-Patraj had been arrested following an INTERPOL alert worldwide, clearly such news would have been reported. Yet, given the capability of law enforcement agencies to track suspects via credit card transactions and airline manifests, it is surprising that virtually no leads have been reported in order to manage rumor control involving a case of considerable public interest.

If Nar-Patraj in fact murdered Albano he might well have shifted to the use of cash, but unless he already had large sums of hard currency in hand prior to the murder, he would still have to rely on ATMs to obtain more cash to facilitate his escape.

As long ago as two weeks, close family and friends intimated that Ms. Albano may have planned to break up with Nar-Patraj on her visit to Thailand, who was not only her boyfriend, but a business partner as well.

Police theorize that the couple may well have had an argument before the suspect left the Frazer and headed for the airport.

Update/Argentina: Train Collision Occurred After Years of Failed Safety Inspections

According to Argentina's auditor general (AG), Leandro Despouy, the country's deadliest train accident (50 killed, nearly 800 injured) in decades was foreseeable and preventable, given a history of failed safety tests that provided the government to cancel the train operator's concession, Trains of Buenos Aires (TBA).

Conversely, the TBA contended that the government's insistence on keeping fairs below the equivalent of 25 cents per trip made it impossible for TBA to fund safety improvements. Nevertheless, instead of continuing to use railway cars built 40 years ago, upgraded cars could have significantly reduce the number of casualties from Wednesday's (February 22) collision.

COMMENT: AG Despouy, however, said TBA had been failing safety requirements since 2002. Many of these compliance problems were raised in an extremely critical report in 2008.

To make matters worse, former Transport Secretary Ricardo Jaime awaits trial for allegedly approving millions of dollars in train subsidies after accepting free Brazilian vacation flights from businessman Claudio Cirigliano. Cirigliano's Grupo Plaza holding company ironically owns both TBA and competing bus lines.

Sadly, railway systems in many countries are poorly run and abundant with safety concerns, particularly when operating equipment is obsolete and not designed from the standpoint of passenger safety.

There is merit to TBA's contention that by being forced to keep fares so low for working class commuters, the entity was deprived of having sufficient profits with which to address safety concerns. TBA's website even explains that revenue from fares is insufficient to even fund TBA's operating costs.

In my book, STAYING SAFE ABROAD, I urge caution in taking public transportation for a number of reasons, including passenger safety. It is safe to assume that most of Argentina's elite does not travel by train.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Uganda: American Producer Dies from Drug Overdose, Assistant in Coma

American television producer Jeff Rice was found dead in a hotel in Kampala on Friday. Pending the results of an autopsy, initial cause of death is linked to a cocaine overdose. Additionally, his assistant, Katheryne Fuller, was found unconscious and is now recovering at a local hospital.

Hotel staff became aware of what happened when a man was seen on Rice's balcony. When they went to the room, they found Rice’s body on the balcony and Fuller lying in the room. Police are hopeful that Ms. Fuller will be able to shed some light on what happened to both her and Rice once she recovers and is is lucid enough to speak with police.

COMMENT: Rice was a veteran producer who worked on the latest season of the hit reality series “The Amazing Race,” and the Emmy-nominated Animal Planet series “Whale Wars.” In addition to raising two young kids, he and his wife, Sally Blackman, operated a television and film production company called SB Productions in Durban, South Africa. Fuller was an employee of their company.

This incident will be updated as more information is released; however, in the interim, it is unwise for foreigners to engage in illegal drug use in countries where the use of such drugs bring with it lengthy prison time, particularly for non-citizens.

Update: Death Toll, Number of Injuries Rise in Buenos Aires Train Collision

Overnight, the number of those killed in Wednesday's (February 22) train collision in Buenos Aires rose to 50, while the number of injuries has risen to a staggering 703. More details will be provided as new information is received.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Argentina: 49 Killed, 550 Injured in Train Collision in Metropolitan Buenos Aires

A packed commuter train on the Sarmiento Line slammed into a retaining wall in Buenos Aires during rush hour earlier today (February 22) leaving at least 49 dead, 550 injured, and dozens trapped in the wreckage.

The collision occurred after the train's brakes failed, as it was arriving at a station on the western outskirts of Buenos Aires.

The total number of casualties surpassed the city's last major rail disaster just five months ago when two trains and bus collided during rush hour, killing 11 people and injuring more than 200.

COMMENT: The Sarmiento rail line, which links the center of Buenos Aires to a densely populated suburb 70 kilometers (44 miles) to the west of the city, uses railway cars acquired in the 1960s.

In March 2008, 18 people were killed and 47 injured when a bus was hit by a train in Dolores, 212 kilometers (132 miles) south of Buenos Aires. Argentina's deadliest train tragedy was in 1970, an accident that killed 200 people north of the capital.

Unfortunately, Argentina's overcrowded and poorly maintained rail system, run by private companies and heavily subsidized by the government, are plagued by accidents and delays.

One the most significant lessons learned from today's collision is that Argentina, like many countries around the world, are not well prepared for a mass-casualty event, regardless of the cause.

Arizona: Swiss Hiker Rescued After Getting Trapped in Slot Canyon

A Swiss tourist, 35, was rescued from a remote slot canyon three miles south of Page, AZ on Monday (February 20), after spending three cold nights and two days trapped there.


The man had rappelled into a Colorado River tributary called Water Holes Canyon, using climbing rope that was too short on Friday (February 18) and was unable to climb back out due to an ankle injury.

Unfortunately, the hiker had no camping equipment with him and suffered severe rope burns as he attempted to climb out with an injured ankle.

To make matters worse, and with no mobile service available in the area, the man had to rely on ropes he found in the canyon to descend further, only to be halted when he ran into a 400-foot drop.

COMMENT: Fortunately for the unprepared hiker, his car was found on Highway 89 after his wife in Zurich reported him as a missing person.

Subsequently, county search and rescue units, as well as sheriff's deputies, dispatched first-responders into the canyon and found him, treated his injury and gave him fluids and warm clothing. After that, he was sent to a local hospital for further treatment.

The Sheriff's Department later reported that 21 responders were involved in the rescue effort, requiring 215 staff hours, six vehicles, two UTVs and a helicopter.

As I have mentioned in a number of postings involving climbers, hikers, etc. getting themselves into trouble by not being prepared, it is never a good idea to hike rigorous terrain or climb alone.

If one insists on going solo, they should be prepared for the worst, which should minimally include protective clothing, survival tools, renting a satellite mobile for the trip and/or purchasing a personal locator beacon (PLB) that can be activated from virtually anywhere.

Typically, PLBs cost roughly US$250-300, but in most cases are worth every penny when it comes to surviving an emergency.


Canada: Tourist Killed by Train While Wearing Audio Headphones

A Chilean tourist, 27, has become the latest in a recent string of people struck and killed by trains while wearing headphones. The RCMP reported that the death occurred yesterday (February 21) after being hit by a Canadian Pacific Railway train in Banff.

COMMENT: I have been cautioning travelers for months, particularly when abroad and in areas where they may be at risk of being harmed to killed when wearing audio headphones. Texting is also a dangerous activity in this regard.

Wearing headphones and texting also diminishes the ability of wearers to protect themselves from being victimized by criminals.

Just last week, two other people died after being hit by trains, one near Leduc and the other in Ontario and it's believed they may have been distracted by texting and listening to music on headphones.

The train crew did everything possible to try and stop the train from hitting the man by sounding off the bells and whistles and flashing their lights.

Australian Foreign Minister Resigns, Claiming Lack of Support from PM

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd resigned earlier todsay (February 22) amidst rumors that he would soon mount an effort to topple Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The announcement was made in Washington.

COMMENT: Despite Gillard's efforts to put a happy face on the strength of her minority government, observers suggest that her government would lose if an election were held now. Nevertheless, Australia's next national election is due in 2013. Gillard toppled Rudd in a party room coup in 2010.

Traveler's Update: Frankfurt Airport Strike to End Later Today (2/22)

As a follow-up to previous postings indicating that the ground strike at FRA would continue until 2/24, A spokesman for the union, GdF, said earlier today that it will halt representing ground workers at Frankfurt airport says it will its strike ahead of an expected resumption of negotiations.

Consequently, the strike will end at the beginning of the night shift later today; negotiations could restart as soon as Thursday.

COMMENT: The strike, which began last week, already have led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights and delays at the airport, Europe's third busiest, which sees some 1,300 takeoffs and landings daily.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Colombia: US Department of State Issues Update on its Travel Warning

For the benefit of our readers, the US Department of State has issued an updated travel warning for Colombia, effective February 21, 2012:

Taiwan: Accidents Involving Visitors Flags Risk of Tourism

A Mainland Chinese tourist who suffered major injuries in a tour bus crash last week in eastern Taiwan died earlier today (February 21), the second traffic fatality involving Chinese citizens since the beginning of the year. Gou Xiaorong, who succumbed to multiple organ failure, was traveling on a tour bus carrying 32 Chinese visitors when it rolled over.

The accident, which occurred on February 17 due to excessive speeding, left eight other Chinese tourists seriously injured and 23 with minor injuries.

Last April [2011]
a train crash in central Taiwan killed six Chinese tourists. As a result, travel to Taiwan by Mainland China tourists dropped significantly in May and June by 22% and 28%, respectively.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, like many other countries which I have mentioned in recent postings, Taiwan has not taken the necessary steps to safeguard tourists when they travel abroad, particularly as regards safety standards and enforcement of the transportation industry.

Another subject that complicates accidents involving tourists, particularly those from Mainland China, is that the PRC only began to permit its citizens to travel to Taiwan outside of organized travel groups last year.

There is a lot riding on this new program, politically and economically, because the approach had hopes of easing political tension between the two arch adversaries and helping the Taiwanese economy as well.

Update/Clarification: Italian Marines Shoot, Kill Unarmed Indian Fishermen

As a follow-up to my posting of yesterday (February 20) and my thoughts on how India and Italy can strategically head-off a deterioration of their relationship over the shooting and killing of two unarmed Indian fisherman by Italian Marines on February 15, I should clarify that there is a dispute between the two governments as to whether or not the Enrica Lexie was in international waters.

COMMENT: In the meantime, it appears that the two Marines, who were assigned aboard the Naples-registered oil tanker to protect the vessel from pirates, will be held in custody by the Indian government until at least March 5.

India contends that the two fisherman, ages 48 and 25, were in Indian waters off the Neendakara coast in Kollam district when the fisherman were killed.

At the moment, the "Enrica Lexie" remains under the control of the Indian Coast Guard; it is unlikely it will be released until the investigations and other legal proceedings are completed pertaining to the shooting death of the fishermen.

Traveler's Update: Frankfurt Strike Now Extended Until 2/24

My postings on the continuing extension of the strike at Frankfurt Airport are beginning to seem like a number of scenes from the US movie, "Groundhog Day," yet the union representing apron staff, GdF, announced in recent hours that the strike that began late last week will again be extended until Friday evening, February 24.

COMMENT: Given the continuing impact of this strike on transit passengers traveling through FRA, passengers are urged to contact their airline and rebook on flights less likely to be canceled. Fortunately, despite the strike, airport management has been able to keep nearly 80% of its flights in the air.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Traveler's Update: Ground Strike at Frankfurt Airport Extended Until 2/22

As a follow-up to yesterday's posting concerning the ground strike at Frankfurt Airport, striking workers are extending their stoppage until Wednesday (February 22) in a bid to turn up pressure in their pay dispute.

Following two days of warning strikes last week, the GdF union for air traffic workers said that a third round of stoppages, originally planned to run for 24 hours from 0400 GMT Monday, would now be extended for an additional 48 hours.

Although 240 of a total 1,250 flights were canceled today (February 20), FRA was still able to keep 80% of its scheduled flights in the air, which totals nearly 1,000.

COMMENT: The wage dispute concerns 200 so-called "apron control" staff who direct aircraft in and out of their parking positions both in the control tower and on the tarmac.

The strikes kicked off Thursday, grounding 172 flights, and intensified Friday with 280 flights canceled, 250 of them by German flag-carrier, Lufthansa, which uses Frankfurt as its primary hub. A spokeswoman for Lufthansa said that 200 flights would be cancelled on Monday, followed by a further 160 on Tuesday.

It should be noted that GdF, which also represents air traffic controllers, is demanding pay rises of 25-50%, depending on a worker's wage level, as well as increased bonuses and reduced working hours.

Frankfurt Airport is Europe's third busiest after Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle.

Update: British Driver Indicted in Death of Teacher, Injury to 23 Passengers

As a follow-up to my posting yesterday (February 19), concerning a tour bus that originated in the UK (Birmingham) to take some 42 people (including students, two drivers , ski instructors and teachers to an Italian ski resort, one of the two drivers of the coach has been indicted in France [earlier today] on charges of manslaughter and "inflicting involuntary injuries."

In addition to one fatality, six passengers also sustained critical injuries.

The accident took place in northern France, near Reims, when the driver, 47, who has been indicted, dozed off, causing the tour bus to leave the roadway and crash.

COMMENT: Now, here's the interesting part. Rather than being taken into custody by French police on the basis of the manslaughter charge, the drive was told that he could return to the UK, but will have to "inform the judge of any travel outside of Britain, is forbidden from contacting victims or their relatives and forbidden from driving in France."

Forgive me, but being responsible for the death of at least one person, serious injury to six passengers and injuries to seventeen others somehow seems worthy of incarceration pending trial.

Clearly, the judge in the case is expecting a great deal of voluntary obedience from a commercial driver who is facing serious charges and claims.

To make matters worse, witnesses on the roadway observed the bus swerving erratically as the speedometer revealed excessively high speeds in the minutes before the crash.

Philippines: Ten Police Officers Sought in Connection with Kidnapping of South Korean Tourists

Philippine authorities have ordered the arrest of ten police officers wanted in connection with the kidnapping of four South Korean tourists. Additionally, Alfredo Lim, mayor of Manila, has ordered the ten to be dropped from the police rolls on the basis that they fled on February 14, shortly after the kidnapping occurred.

Reportedly, a tourist guide in South Korea was allegedly arrested last week for conspiring with the ten police officers in the abduction. The guide, Choi Jang Tae, arrived in Manila with with a group of twelve South Korean tourists for a four-day excursion, but enticed four of them to go shopping with him while the group was in Manila.

A short time thereafter, while walking in a popular mall frequented by tourists, the four South Koreans were confronted by four gunmen who forced them into a van and sped off.

The four tourists were then told by their captors they would be charged with illegal possession of drugs unless they paid $30,000. Another South Korean tour guide later facilitated the transfer of the money, although he has since been arrested for complicity in the conspiracy.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, corruption and misconduct within the national police has been an endemic problem for years, which has adversely affected tourism. Please see my August 20, 2011 posting entitled, "Family Members of Hong Kong Tourists Killed in Manila in 2010 to Commemorate Their Loss."

In 2011, five Philippine police officers were also terminated after they forced a German tourist to buy laptops for them by threatening to charge him with terrorism.

As further background, if you go to the search component within the voluminous list of my nearly 1,000 postings, simply type in the Philippines, to capture an overview of the level of criminality in the Philippines generally, but in Metro Manila, specifically.

Update/Thailand: Murder of Tampa-Based US Businesswoman, Suspect Being Sought Abroad

As a follow-up to my February 17 posting concerning the brutal murder of Tampa-based US businesswoman Wendy Albano, 51, who was found bludgeoned to death last week in her guest room on the 17th floor of the Fraser Suites in Bangkok.

both the Royal Thai Police and the media have released few details on the progress being made to apprehend the prime suspect, Sang-Hvi Ritesh Nar-Patraj, 26, who had been staying with the American at the Fraser.

Closed circuit surveillance footage at the Fraser indicate that Nar-Patraj was observed leaving the hotel with his luggage at approximately 2000 hours on Sunday (February 12). It has also been confirmed that Thai immigration has him flying out of Bangkok that evening, although his destination has not been released to the press.

COMMENT: According to close family and friends, Ms. Albano may have planned to break up with Nar-Patraj, who was not only her boyfriend, but a business partner as well.

Police theorize that the couple may well have had an argument before the suspect left the Frazer and headed for the airport.

Updates will be provided as new information becomes available.

Update: Indian Police Arrest Italian Security Team Assigned to Protect Merchant Vessels

As a follow-up to yesterday's posting, the Italian foreign ministry has taken the position that Italy should be allowed to deal with allegations that a security team assigned aboard an Italian commercial vessel, who shot and killed two unarmed Indian fisherman on Wednesday (February 15).

To make matters worse, the Italian foreign ministry said earlier today (February 20) that Indian police should not have arrested the two servicemen, who are Italian Marines. The two were part of a security detachment assigned to protect the merchant vessel, Enrica Lexie, from attacks in the Indian Ocean.

The two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were arrested in the coastal town of Kochi and remain in custody.

COMMENT: As I mentioned in yesterday's posting, it might have been better if the Italian foreign ministry had been more transparent with the Indian government and apprised them of the fact that they had been assigning armed military personnel to commercial vessels for several months.

Doing so could also have enabled both governments to amicably work out rules of engagement which could have prevented the deaths of innocent civilians.

Although assigning armed guards aboard commercial vessels may be authorized under Italian law, the fact remains that two unarmed fisherman have been shot and killed, although they were in international waters at the time of the shooting.

Although a diplomatic team from Rome arrived in New Delhi on Sunday in the hope of working through the bi-lateral crisis, as today ends, apparently no agreement was reached between the two nations, which obviously is straining relations.

Unfortunately, the captain of the "Enrica Lexie," Umberto Vitelli, sent a report to the ships owners and Italian officials, but made no reference that two Indian fisherman were killed.

Although no doubt more facts will emerge from what is quickly becoming an international incident, one can only hope that the Italian Marines were equipped with tactical optics which should have told them whether approaching vessels were armed or not.

Regardless, Vitelli should have authorized target acquisition ONLY after confirming that there was a lethal, imminent threat that jeopardized the "Enrica Lexie."

In any event, there seem to major differences in the establishment of facts between the two countries, as the captain of the "Enrica Lexie" said that warning shots were fired to deter nearby vessels, yet the fact remains that two unarmed civilians were shot and killed.

Nevertheless, India may well find an uphill battle in attempting to prosecute two Italian Marines who presumably were acting under orders of their superiors in international waters.

It would be wise for Italy to offer equitable compensation to the families of the Indian fisherman killed, as well as an apology from the Italian government, and for India to transfer custody of the two Marines to Italy with the assertion that they will be disciplined appropriately if they operated outside of their authority.

Otherwise, this incident could dramatically disrupt Italian-Indian affairs.

Update/Ecuador: Death Toll from Bus Accident Rises to 27 Killed, 30 Injured

As a follow-up to my posting yesterday (February 19), the rural bus that slipped off a mountain road, killing 27 and injuring 30 others on Sunday (February 19) in the northern province of Imbabura, near Cuajara, reportedly had faulty brakes.

COMMENT: The accident occurred on the Ibarra-San Lorenzo highway linking the provinces of Imbabura with Esmeraldas, not far from the Colombian border.

Update: Seventeen Stolen Costa Rican Police Pistols Found in Panama

As a follow-up to my series of postings on the January 30 stolen from Costa Rica's Traffic Police in San José, seventeen of the 9mm Glock pistols (out of 215) have been found in Panama.

On Friday (February 17), the Panamanian National Police announced that a raid resulted in the discovery of seventeen of the semi-auto pistols, at which time two suspects were taken into custody.

COMMENT: On February 3, Costa Rican police also recovered 56 of the pistols pistols in a raid in San José. They are still searching for the remaining ones. Thieves also stole bulletproof vests and police uniforms, which were slated to be put into service by members of the Traffic Police.

The director of the Traffic Police, César Quirós, and three other officers were suspended on February 2, because they failed to fulfill their responsibilities to properly safeguard the firearms.

As a side comment, in the US, RARELY are public officials held to the same standard as they are in Costa Rica. Hence, the US Government could easily learn a tip or two from their Costa Rican counterparts.

Unless the massive theft was an "inside job," it is relatively easy, and inexpensive, to safeguard handguns, so hopefully procedures and deterrents aimed at protecting police firearms and equipment in the future have already been put into place.

Thus far, Costa Rican police have made no arrests in connection with who was responsible for the theft of the large cache of police pistols in the first place.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ecuador: Rural Bus Topples Over Cliff Killing 29, Injuring 27

Ecuadorian media has reported that a fully occupied rural bus fell from a cliff in the northern section of the country on Sunday (February 19), killing 27 adults and two children. The driver was among those killed.

COMMENT: Many of our regular readers know full well my thoughts on taking local buses in developing countries and the human carnage that has resulted from over-crowded buses attempting to traverse high-risk mountain roads, often driven by fatigued and inexperienced drivers with poor safety records.

In northern Ecuador, like many Andean countries, it is common for local buses to creep along on cliff-facing roads that are not built for two large vehicles which creates an accident-waiting-to-happen when such vehicles encounter each other, hoping for an spacious indentation on the cliff side of the road.

I remember a business trip I made a few years to a Peruvian power plant which was right out of an Indiana Jones movie. In a small 4x4, I traveled with a local driver from Lima which took us four hours to get to the plant, driving on a poorly maintained road hardly large enough for one vehicle, as I looked out the window and saw the cliff drop hundreds of feet below.

I now know what a near-death experience is like.

I bring this particular accident up only for the purpose of flagging the tragedies than can occur and urge foreign travelers to know exactly what they're getting into before embarking on rural bus travel in hazardous areas.

Even if one is fortunate enough to survive the trip, there is also the risk of banditry in areas that rarely see a police patrol.

Sadly, police investigating the tragedy identified excessive speed as the cause of the "accident."

Indian Police Arrest Two Italian Navy Members for Killing Unarmed Fishermen

Indian police earlier today (February 19) detained two members of the Italian Navy accused of killing two unarmed Indian fisherman they mistook as pirates off the coast of the southern state of Kerala.

The Italians, part of an anti-piracy security team assigned aboard an Italian merchant vessel, the Enrica Lexie, when the incident occurred on February 15, have been supplied to Italian commercial ships since October 2011 that request such assistance.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that the Italian foreign minister had called his Indian counterpart on Saturday (February 18) to discuss a mutually acceptable approach to determining what happened in the incident.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, it appears that conclusions have already been made by some, before an investigation has even be addressed, considering that the External Affairs minister told the Italian foreign minister that the incident could have been avoided if the navy security team had shown greater restraint.

A team of Italian diplomats are expected to arrive in New Delhi today to discuss the matter with Indian authorities.

One can only hope that the Italian foreign minister had notified the Indian government of its deploying armed navy teams aboard Italian commercial vessels before the fact and that written rules of engagement had been agreed upon. If that was not the case, bi-lateral relations between India and Italy might well be entering some rough water.

Updates on this posting will be provided as information becomes available.

Tour Bus Carrying British Tourists Crashes in France, 1 Killed, 23 Injured

A tour bus carrying dozens of British tourists returning from an Italian ski resort left the roadway early on Sunday (February 19) near the town of Reims, some 140 kilometers from Paris. There is one reported death and some 23 injured, several of them seriously. The accident involved no other vehicles.

COMMENT: Destined for Birmingham, the driver was also injured. Diagnostic tests following the accident revealed no presence of alcohol or drugs. The driver will be questioned by the local prosecutor after he is released from the hospital.

This posting will be updated as new information becomes available.

Traveler's Alert: 24-Hour Ground Workers Strike at Frankfurt Airport on 2/20

GdF, a union representing ground workers at Germany's Frankfurt Airport has announced that some 200 workers they will go on strike for 24 hours from 0400 GMT on Monday (February 20) until the same time on 2/21.

A press spokesperson said the airport will be able to handle only about 70% of the 1,250 scheduled flights for Monday because of the strike, suggesting that as many as 400 flights might have to be canceled. As a result, flight delays could add to travelers' normal frustration.

COMMENT: The ground workers already staged two shorter walkouts Thursday and Friday (February 16-17), forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights each time. Airlines were still able to operate more than half of their scheduled flights, canceling mostly short and mid-range flights.

GdF, which also represents air traffic controllers, represents ground workers as well. The company has refused to accept the result of an arbitration panel, leading to the strike.

It is suggested that air travelers who will be going through FRA on Monday should promptly contact their carrier or travel agent and take steps to shift their transit to Tuesday or Wednesday, if at all possible to avoid significant delays or cancellations.