Interesting Bits

Interesting news about places that we have visited or will be visiting:

December 2011

Brisbane on track for its coldest December day in 123 years

Alex Zadnik, Wednesday December 7, 2011

Cloud and rain has limited Brisbane's temperature to 19.1 degrees so far today, putting the city on track for its coldest December day since 1888. 20mm of rain had drenched the city between 9am and 3pm, while the associated cloud cover had blocked out the warming rays of the summer sun. The highest temperature recorded after 9am in Brisbane was 19.1 degrees, which is around 10 below average for the month of December. The main Brisbane weather site only has 12 years of continuous records, but checking surrounding sites from the city and the old regional office site, the current maximum of 19.1 would be the lowest recorded since 1888(assuming we stay at or below 19.3 until 9am on Thursday).

The rain is going to stick around for the city through Wednesday night and there is a risk it will become even heavier for a period during Thursday morning. This will depend on the precise position of a small low pressure centre that is currently tracking south towards Fraser Island. The rain should ease into Friday as the low moves away, leaving Brisbane with some sunny breaks and a more summer like maximum of 27 degrees. Even warmer but showery weather is likely on the weekend.

- Weatherzone

November 2011

I guess sometimes you just can't be too sure of people. This boat was in the Port-to-Port Rally which went from Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Australia. While at the dock in Bundy, they tried to fit into the cruising scene. The fellow even won for best costume at the pirate party. We never met them but did see their boat "Friday Freedom" at the dock when we went to visit friends. Needless to say, everybody around here is pretty shocked!

Life of pirate party before drug arrests -- November 15, 2011

ACCUSED drug smugglers Ivan Valea and Julia Fernandez were the life of a pirate party at Bundaberg marina only a few nights before they were arrested in one of Australia's biggest cocaine busts.

Fellow yachties say the fun-loving Spanish couple gave no hint that they were allegedly part of an international crime syndicate, with Gold Coast links, during their three-week stay at the marina on board their boat Friday Freedom.

Carousing with other boaties who had sailed alongside them from Port Vila to Bundaberg in the annual Port2Port Yacht Rally, Valea, 35, and Fernandez, 37, were hardly keeping a low profile for two people with an alleged cargo of 300kg of cocaine worth up to $120 million hidden in their hull.Hamming it up for the camera, Valea even won the award for best costume at the rally's pirate party last week.

"They were very, very nice people," Bundaberg Yacht Club president Lesley Grimminck told The Courier-Mail yesterday. "They came to just about all our functions and we never suspected a thing. Everyone was just blown away when we found out."

Ms Grimminck said Friday Freedom was one of 85 boats in the rally fleet which arrived in Bundaberg on October 20.

She said Ms Fernandez spoke no English and Mr Valea interpreted for her at functions held at Bundaberg marina.

"We didn't have a clue they were up to no good," Ms Grimminck said. "The first I knew about it was on Saturday morning when all hell broke loose at the marina. There were police and Customs officers everywhere and they turned the boat upside down."

The couple, along with alleged cocaine syndicate kingpin Jose Herrero-Calvo, 38, of Sydney, and Miguel Angel Sanchez Barrocal, 39, of the Gold Coast, were arrested in Bundaberg at the weekend over what Australian Federal Police said was the fifth biggest drugs bust in the nation's history.

The AFP said cocaine with a wholesale value of $78 million was seized in raids that also netted $3.5 million in cash, including almost $300,000 at a Surfers Paradise residence.

Ms Fernandez was in tears when the four Spanish nationals briefly faced Bundaberg Magistrates Court yesterday. All were remanded in custody until their next court appearance in January.

The Friday Freedom, a 17m steel ketch, had been under surveillance since September as part of a 10-month investigation. Codenamed Operation Avalon, the probe began as a money-laundering investigation in February after the AFP received intelligence on large amounts of cash being sent overseas.

Queensland police and Customs officials joined federal agents in the investigation and tracked the Friday Freedom after it left Port Vila for Bundaberg.

Authorities swooped on Bundaberg marina after Mr Herrero-Calvo and Mr Barrocal allegedly drove from the Gold Coast to Bundaberg last Friday and removed 100kg of cocaine from the vessel in two suitcases. They were arrested on Friday night after allegedly driving off in two hire cars with their huge stash.

Assistant Commissioner Kevin Zuccato, the AFP's national manager of serious and organised crime, said syndicate members had been "very patient", waiting three weeks to begin moving the cocaine after the Friday Freedom docked in Bundaberg.

Mr Valea and Ms Fernandez were arrested on Friday Freedom and the remaining drugs, believed to have originated from South America, were located in the boat's bilge, wrapped in black plastic and tape to keep them dry.

The four Spaniards face life imprisonment if convicted.

- Greg Stolz and Brittany Vonow

October 2011

Another horrible natural disaster befalls New Zealand. We were here in February for Andreas birthday. It is sad, it is a beautiful area, I hope that it can be cleaned up and controlled before the spill causes more destruction.


As reported by

Stricken ship's Master arrested as containers topple in Rena Disaster

There have been two significant developments in the Rena Disaster. Seventy containers have fallen off the ship overnight as she continues to be pounded by 4-5 metre seas off Tauranga. More expected to come off as the adverse weather continues. The containers stacked in the stern, which have broken free were earlier said to be empty.

The Rena's Master has been arrested and appeared in the Tauranga District Court at 1000hrs, Wedensday morning (NZT) A statement issued this morning by Maritime NZ reads: The Master of the vessel Rena has been arrested and charged by Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) under section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act (MTA) 1994, "for operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk". He will appear in the Tauranga District Court this morning (Wednesday 12 October). One s65 MTA charge has been laid, but it is likely more charges may follow. The s65 charge carries a maximum penalty of $10,000, or a maximum term of imprisonment of 12 months.

MNZ will make no further comment while the matter is before the courts.

There is no further information on more oil release, after 350 tonnes were reported to have been released yesterday. According to Predictwind the winds will increase today, Wednesday, before easing, however the large swells will stay in until Thursday before easing slightly. The incident has been declared to be the biggest maritime environmental disaster in NZ's history. Outflow of oil increased tenfold today with up to 350 tonnes being released from the ship. In an earlier release Maritime NZ advised that shipping had been re-routed. Approximately 70 containers have come off the Rena and are now in the water. It is highly likely that more will come off due to the current severe weather conditions and the vessel’s heavy list. Once an aerial survey is completed, there will be a clearer picture of exactly how many containers have come adrift. This aerial survey will go ahead today once the weather has cleared and the sea conditions have improved. There are 1368 containers on board. Eleven containers containing hazardous substances are still on the vessel and are not among the 70 estimated overboard. Navigational warnings have been issued to mariners and major shipping has been re-routed.

Containers are likely to wash up on the beaches and if you see any, please call 0800 OIL SPILL (645 774). The contents of the containers remain the property of the owners. It is an offence to take any property from the containers and anyone doing so can expect to be prosecuted.

Last Wednesday the 236 metre container ship, Rena, hit the Astrolabe Reef just off Tauranga harbour New Zealand. She was traveling at 17 knots, when she hit the well-known reef at 2.20am. She has stuck fast with her bow in the reef. A massive salvage operation is getting underway some five days after the incident. Rena has 1700 tonnes of fuel oil aboard and if this is released into the pristine coastal area it will be the most serious environmental disaster in New Zealand's history. After the first day of a storm onshore seas have caused the Rena to shift, and come more upright. While the authorities claim that this is a result of rock crushing below her bow, it may also be further crushing of the ships hull - depending on which is the more sacrificial surface. As expected more oil was released from either cracked bow tanks (which are being pumped aft) or from the keel duct which contains 100 tonnes of oil which cannot be accessed by the salvage team. The amount of oil now released (370 tonnes) exceeds the amount previously stated to be in the keel duct, indicating that a fuel tank may have been ruptured. It was stated this morning that bringing a floating crane from Singapore to offload containers would take a month. There is no crane in NZ with sufficient height to get to the top of the container stack. It would seem that Mother Nature is doing what Man cannot. The salvage team has now set up a permanent base in a vacant supermarket, with about 200 people on site on a single floor, with the expectation that this recovery operation will take several months, rather than weeks.

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World


Posted 7 October 2011

As reported by

Wellington - New Zealand said it was preparing for an environmental disaster on Friday as a container ship stranded off the North Island threatened to break up and spill oil into the pristine Bay of Plenty.

The 47 000 ton container vessel "Rena", which hit a reef off the coast of Tauranga earlier this week, has already created an oil slick more than 5km long that has killed a number of seabirds.

But the pollution would be far worse if the ship broke up on the Astrolabe Reef, releasing the 1 700 tons of heavy fuel oil on board into a marine environment that is home to whales, dolphins, seals and penguins.

Environment Minister Nick Smith told Fairfax Media the accident "has the potential to be New Zealand's most significant maritime pollution disaster in decades".

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said salvage teams were scrambling to remove oil from the stricken vessel to protect the Bay of Plenty, one of the country's top tourist destinations.


"The difficulty is that the situation is deteriorating and according to the advice I've received, there's the possibility it could break up and sink," Joyce told the New Zealand Herald.

"It's certainly serious, what's going on there. They're certainly moving as fast as they can. It's been a bit frustrating for everybody in terms of getting the right equipment to achieve the removal of the oil and containers."

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said it was preparing for the possibility the existing oil slick would hit the coast in the coming days after dispersants sprayed from aircraft proved ineffective.

"It has the potential to be very, very serious indeed simply because of the age of the ship, the damage that she's sustained and the 1 700 tons of heavy fuel oil on board," MNZ pollution response manager Andrew Berry told Radio New Zealand.

The weather in the Bay of Plenty is forecast to deteriorate early next week, giving added urgency to efforts to remove the oil in case the ship breaks apart in heavy swells.

"The worst-case scenario is a significant shoreline impact, which is why we have teams on standby," MNZ on-site controller Rob Service said.

The agency found four dead birds in the slick on Thursday and dispatched wildlife rescue teams on Friday to scour Bay of Plenty beaches looking for oil-covered animals and birds.

Rescue centres

It said two wildlife rescue centres had been set up, but could not confirm reports that seals had been seen covered in oil.

Animal welfare group Forest and Bird said species of marine birdlife at risk from the spill included blue penguins, shearwaters, gannets and petrels.

The group's seabird specialist, Karen Baird, said the timing of the accident, in the midst of breeding season, was "disastrous".

"Many of them are sitting on eggs and some of them have got chicks that are starting to hatch, so that's a big worry for us," she told 3News.

It is not known why the ship ran aground in the early hours of Wednesday morning. None of the 25-man crew was injured in the accident


The following article is very hard to beleive and I hope it doesn't turn out to be true:

Round-the-world yachtsman feared eaten by cannibals

GERMAN sailor Stefan Ramin was on the trip of a lifetime when it turned into a nightmare on an island in the middle of nowhere. He set off on 2008 with his girlfriend and traversed the globe looking for paradise - but it took a horrible twist when he reached Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia. The remote tropical island was the last place Mr Ramin was seen before remains, believed to be his, were uncovered. Experts believe he was "hacked to pieces and burned" and eaten by suspected cannibals. Testing will conclude whether the ashes belong to Mr Ramin, Radio New Zealand International reported.

Police are looking for Henri Haiti, a local guide who set off on a hunting trip with Mr Ramin and then tried to sexually assault Mr Ramin's girlfriend when he returned to alert her of an apparent accident. He tied her to a tree but she managed to escape and alert local authorities. Haiti is still missing and is now the subject of a seven-day manhunt from police and soldiers. Ramin and his girlfriend had planned to spend several months in French Polynesia, docking at Nuku Hiva to experience a traditional goat hunt on the island of 2,789 people. "The foreign ministry and the federal police are aware of the case and in contact with local authorities," said a spokesperson from the German foreign ministry.


I found the following article on Noonsite to our astonishment:

Venezuela: Los Roques to be Nationalised

As reported by

Some of the remotest islands in the Caribbean are the most precious. In an area most distinguished by rampant commercialism, it is those that have remained almost totally undeveloped which are a reminder of what once was. Los Roques, just 90 miles north of the Venezuelan mainland is one of these, and a favourite of long range cruising sailors.

President Chavez has announced that he aims to nationalize the islands for budget tourism and "productive activities like fishing".

Venezuela president Hugo Chavez's policy of nationalising strategic private businesses has taken a new twist with his announcement that his government will expropriate the existing hotels and holiday homes on the islands.

The president plans to turn Los Roques, a national park and an idyllic archipelago of deserted beaches of perfect white sand with swaying palms and dazzling coral reefs, into a state-run getaway for his country's urban poor.

Speaking on national television, he said that yachts and speedboats confiscated from fugitive bankers would be used to transport holidaymakers from the mainland. "There are some houses there that were illegally built. We are going to expropriate them."

Talking by phone link he added that the archipelago, a national park, had in effect been privatised by Venezuelan and foreign members of "the upper bourgeoisie".

Los Roques was declared a protected area in 1972 and it is unclear why local authorities permitted any private properties on the islands, effectively allowing the archipelago to become one of Latin America's most exclusive beach destinations. Los Roques is a paradise for bird watchers, snorkellers and scuba-divers - and cruising sailors.

During his 12 years at the helm, Mr. Chavez has taken over large swaths of land and expropriated scores of companies as part of his self-styled "21st century socialist revolution." However, this would be the first time that Mr Chavez has targeted private homes.