I must go down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and sky.
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by.
If poet John Masefield (1878-1967) were still around and writing these days he'd probably modify his "Sea Fever" to reflect the realities of what's going on in the Indian Ocean.
I can't do down to the sea again,
Especially off Somalia.
Thar be pirates there, and I fear
They're not there to entertain ya.
The east coast of Africa, particularly off lawless Somalia, has become a hotbed of piracy, with crews armed and led by Somalian warlords who have latched on to automatic weapons and shoulder-launched grenade and missile launchers. The other day a cruise ship owned by a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines was attacked by two pirate ships but managed to turn tail and outrun them, thus keeping the 302 passengers from harm. Several cargo ships were hijacked just hours later, bringing to five the number of ships taken over in just the past four weeks.
The cruise ship attack certainly wasn't all business. Passengers say some of the pirates grinned as they aimed weapons at the deck and staterooms.
Andrew Mwangura, the co-ordinator of Seafarers Assistance Programme, a non-governmental organization focusing on shipping, urged the United Nations to impose an embargo on export of charcoal from Somalia. He said the warlords raised the money to buy arms by exporting 60,000 metric tons of charcoal to some foreign countries.
Much as we love to travel, the general unrest in the world -- the spreading French riots, the hideous weather, the pirates of the Caribbean and elsewhere -- this is a good time to stay closer to home.
It is, at times, difficult to remember that not all of today's "old" European nations have been around all that long in their current constructions.
Germany, for example, wasn't really Germany until around World War I. Before that it was a lot of separately-ruled Germanic states without a single government. Italy was known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for a long time before it became the country we now know somewhere early in the 20th Century. The same goes for Spain, which we think of as a very old nation because of its powerful status during the subjugation of the Americas.
Historic length, however, is a very subjective thing. If you're old enough, you remember the ups and downs; if you're much younger, you remember only brief spans. One prime example: United Germany became divided Germany right after World War II when the Soviet Union laid claim to half of it. Now it's united again because the Soviet Union split up. Karma.
Spain has been in the news for years for the violent Basque separatist movement and the frequent shootings and bombings that punctuate that northern province's attempt to secede from Spain proper. A Basque independence plan was soundly defeated in parliament earlier this year.
Things are different in the province of Catalonia, with its cosmopolitan capital of Barcelona and its sunny Costa Brava. There, a desire for more autonomy has succeeded. The Spanish parliament has just approved a proposal, 197 to 146, to let the affluent region in northeast Spain call itself a nation -- but still remain a part of Spain, control its taxation policies, and change laws passed by the national parliament.
That may mean a lot of changes for tourists drawn to the city and its cathedrals, Olympic venues, parks and fabled nightlife.
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