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Could it be Paradise ?

Shipwrecks and Lost Treasures of the Seven Seas : WET & HOT NEWS !

13 November 2010

Battle for 'Pearl of Allah' continues in Denver

Ken Green - 

A nearly 30-year-old case involving what is believed to be the world largest pearl is once again being brought to a Denver courtroom, bringing with it a tale of mystery, murder and millions of dollars.

The 14-pound Pearl of Allah is currently being held in a Colorado Springs bank vault and may see the light of day again now that a Denver federal has agreed to hear the case that seeks to divide up proceeds from the sale of the 9-inch gem, according to an Associated Press story.

The story of the Pearl of Allah begins in 1934 when a diver discovered the brain-shaped pearl in a clam off the coast of the Philippines. He drowned in the attempt.

According to a 2007 Denver Post article, the pearl eventually became partially owned by Joe Bonicelli, a Colorado Springs bar owner. In 1975, Eloise Bonicelli was shot and killed by an intruder in their home. Police later determined that Eloise Bonicelli’s death was a contract killed arranged by Joe Bonicelli with the help of businesman Tom Phillips, who also owned a portion off the pearl. The two hired barber Delfino Ortega to carry out the hit on Eloise Bonicelli and Phillips' wife.

Phillips was granted immunity in the trial if he agreed to testify against Ortega, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported in 2005.

Read more...

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The life aquatic

Margot Seeto - 

No, this is not a cartoon character about to burst into song with a crab from Trinidad and a pre-pubescent tropical fish. This is Kariel, a blond Oregonian transplant who’s got a Model Mayhem profile and teaches aquarobics classes at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa at Ko Olina–all in her mermaid tail.

The Weekly stayed dry and spoke with Kariel on the phone about her life aquatic.

Is the Kariel moniker a spin-off of Ariel from The Little Mermaid ?

Yes, My mom named me Kariel because I have been a mermaid my entire life.

You made your tail two years ago. What is it made out of ?

I have made many tails in my life. I handcraft my tails using recycled/used wet suits, eco-friendly paints and many more things made by my imagination. On every swim there is usually maintenance and upkeep required. Because I handcraft them myself, I am able to repair them as well. I guess you can call me a green mermaid. I have a room in my house dedicated to storing my tails and my equipment. I always wash my tails with fresh water after every use. I finished the pink tail after 350 hours and the blue after 400. I am now working on my third water tail. I hope to finish it by December.

What was the most difficult adjustment from being a human swimmer to a mermaid swimmer ?

Although I have always loved the water, I wasn’t always a good swimmer. Although I might lack in areas where others excel, I have my own unique talents. Everyone has something that makes them special and I want to get that message out to the world. My dream is that self-esteem is lifted in children and they recognize how they can affect others as well. If people can get over the fear of what others think, imagine what our world would create and accomplish.

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Image: Kurt Chambers

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Praying underwater in Bohol

abs-cbnnews -

Adventurous Catholics now have another place of meditation and worship.

Bohol, a province known for its natural wonders, now has another tourist attraction – an underwater grotto at the Danajon reef in Bien Unido town.

Here, experienced divers can pray and pay their respects to 14-foot statues of Mother Mary and the Holy Child Jesus, which were installed 60 feet below sea level.

“(Divers) can pray underwater to have a moment of deeper reflection than those normally experienced, and be thankful (to God) for safely guiding (them) through all their diving adventures,” a statement from the mayor’s office of Bien Unido read.

It continued, “Because in diving, one is immersed in another amazing world where everyone can really appreciate God’s wonderful creation.”

Bien Unido officials thought of installing religious statues underwater to discourage illegal fishing in the Danajon reef, which slowly deteriorated due to excessive dynamite and cyanide use.

To encourage more tourists, a mini hotel, a dive shop and other basic facilities have been put up in the area.

“(The underwater grotto was created so that) No man can destroy it for the sake of the future generation,” the statement said.

It added, “The double barrier reef represents a potential global attraction for divers and eco-tourists, potentially providing numerous jobs and stable tax revenue.”

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Marine life may suffer long after public forgets oil spill

Lindsay Peterson - 

While the public has moved on from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, scientists and fisheries managers worry it may have sparked a cascade of events that will lead to the collapse of entire Gulf species.

It happened to the herring after the Exxon Valdez oil spill 20 years ago.

But marine scientists meeting in Sarasota this week say Gulf creatures at risk could be spared if private and public agencies pool their knowledge of the effect of the oil and the state of the Gulf before the BP blowout.

"This is extremely important at this stage of the game," said William Hogarth, dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida.

The government plans to collect billions from BP in fines, but scientists and fishery managers who want some of that money will have to back up their protection and restoration plans with hard data, he said.

Representatives from more than 25 research and fishery management organizations gathered Monday and Tuesday at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. They came from Canada and a dozen states, including Maine, Oregon, Louisiana and Mississippi.

USF, Mote and the National Wildlife Federation sponsored the meeting.

They plan to recommend a unified effort to study and manage the effects of the oil disaster as it ripples through the Gulf's marine web.

The Deepwater Horizon blowout on April 20 was clearly a disaster, but it's also an opportunity, said Michael Crosby, Mote senior vice president.

He called it a "wakeup call and an opportunity for us to begin to work together to bring together all of the information that is out there in a scientific way."

There's plenty of research going on, Crosby said, but no one's focusing it or organizing it to see the broader picture.

"We're calling, and there's urgency, for very applied research" to guide restoration efforts, Crosby said. "We need to act sooner, not later, not 10 to 20 years downstream."

It's crucial "that we make sure research is very focused on getting answers and providing information that will be focused on restoring the Gulf of Mexico."

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Alabama "frustrated" by Watson delay

Peter Mitchell -

Alabama's top prosecutor says he is frustrated by the Australian government's decision to delay the deportation to the US of honeymoon dive killer Gabe Watson over fears a death penalty case will be launched.

Don Valeska, head of the Alabama attorney-general's violent crime division, said that under US federal and Alabama law Watson can't face the death penalty so Australian authorities have no reason to be concerned.

"There's no trickery going on," an exasperated Mr Valeska told AAP.

Watson, a 33-year-old from Hoover, Alabama, pleaded guilty in a Queensland court last year to the manslaughter of his newlywed wife, Tina, for her scuba diving death off the coast of Townsville in 2003.

Watson was sentenced to a minimum 18 months' jail and was due to complete the sentence at the Borallon Correctional Centre, outside of Brisbane, on Thursday.

Alabama authorities were so dismayed by what they thought was a weak sentence by the Queensland courts they planned to prosecute Watson for the murder and kidnapping of Tina in the Alabama courts.

Mr Valeska hoped Watson would be immediately deported from Australia on Thursday, but the Australian government this week indicated Watson would be held in immigration detention while fresh assurances were sought that Watson would not face a death penalty case in the US.

The delay is the latest obstacle thrown in the path of Alabama's prosecutors, with Queensland attorney-general Cameron Dick earlier this year refusing to hand over evidence in the Watson case to US investigators until Alabama attorney-general Troy King agreed to drop the death penalty as a sentencing option.

Mr King in June sent Mr Dick a letter agreeing to take the death penalty off the table. In response, Mr Dick sent the evidence Alabama requested.

That letter ended Alabama's ability to seek the death penalty, Mr Valeska said.

"In Mr King's letter of June 25th to Mr Dick he states: 'I have hereby instructed my prosecutors to proceed with this case with the maximum possible sentence of life without parole'," Mr Valeska said.

"Mr Dick wrote back and said he accepted it.

"It is binding under US Supreme Court and Alabama Supreme Court decisions."

Mr Valeska said he was shocked when he was informed by the media earlier this week the Australian government was now blocking Watson's deportation.

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Beyond gloom: solutions to the global coral reef decline

Jeremy Hance - 

The world's coral reefs are in trouble. Due to a variety of factors—including ocean acidification, warming temperatures from climate change, overfishing, and pollution—coral cover has decline by approximately 125,000 square kilometers in the past 50 or so years. This has caused some marine biologists, like Charlie Veron, Former Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, to predict that coral reefs will be largely extinguished within a century. This year alone, large-scale coral bleaching events, whereby coral lose their symbiotic protozoa and become prone to disease and mortality, were seen off the coasts of Indonesia, the Philippines, and some Caribbean islands. However a new paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution attempts to dispel the gloom over coral reefs by pointing to strategies, and even some successes, to save them.

"We have a very good scientific understanding of what causes reefs to decline—what we now need is a clearer picture of how to help them back onto the reverse trajectory," says lead author, Terry Hughes from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.  

Research has shown that coral reefs are resilient and even capable of recovering from large-scale devastating events.

For example, the authors write that "local sites on exposed reef crests on Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef routinely lose almost all of their coral cover every decade or so because of cyclones, yet they have retained their ability to recover quickly and show no propensity to undergo a long-term shift to an alternative assemblage."

However, human impacts have proven different from natural ones, such as cyclones. Coral reefs are no longer facing down one disaster that hits and then passes, but several different issues, which the authors call "chronic human impacts" that are on-going causing a failure "to recover from pulses of coral mortality" and eventually wholesale collapse. Unfortunately, such states are becoming increasingly common.

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Photo: Rhett A. Butler

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$800: Beer made with ice from Antarctica

Global Adventures -

While explorers and scuba divers around the world may dream about participating in an expedition to Antarctica, an Australian brewery is cashing in on the idea.

Beer made from melted Antarctic Ice got the new title "World’s Most Expensive Beer." A bottle of Antarctic Nail Ale just sold for $800 at an auction in Fremantle, Australia.

The Perth based Nail Brewing Company says that only 30 bottles were created. In return for collecting some ice from Antarctica during their last campaign and donating it to the brewery, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will receive all proceeds from the sale of the Antarctic Nail Ale.

"Over 90 percent of beer is water, so the Antarctic Nail Ale could possibly be the world’s oldest and purest beer," said brewer John Stallwood in a statement. "It’s great to sell the most expensive bottle of beer in the world, but it’s all about a good cause. It’s also good that a beer about saving the whales is now the most expensive beer in the world, rather than high alcohol beer sold in animal carcasses."

Previously, the most expensive beer was called "The end of History." Brewed by Scottish brewery Brewdog’s, 11 bottles of the high alcohol beer (55 percent) sold for up to $765 a bottle. Beer that sells for over $30 per bottle is usually a small batch and numbered, Stallwood says. Typically, high priced beers are high alcohol specialty brews that age well.

Divers recently salvaged about 70 bottles of what is believed the world’s oldest beer from a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea

The almost freezing water temperatures did preserve the 200 year old beer that was resting on the sea floor at depths between 160 and 185 feet (49 to 56 meters) well.

Photo: Joe Mastroianni

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The World Renowned "Explorers Club" Invites the Public to Attend Sixth Annual "Sea Stories"

Marketwire - 

On Saturday, November 20, "The Explorers Club" will host its sixth annual "Sea Stories," a day focused on ocean exploration. Topics will range from protecting the ocean's large animals, to discovering Spanish galleon treasure, to the deep-water habitat to support 25 divers living underwater.

The day starts at 9:00am with coffee and a continental breakfast followed by presentations at 10am. The $60 admission includes lunch (served at noon) as well as a cocktail reception at 5 pm (with beer, wine and soda).

Presenters will include:

Kim Fisher -- "Exploring Spanish Treasure Galleons"
Twenty-five years after Mel Fisher and his crew located the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha off Key West, treasures and artifacts are still being discovered under the leadership of his son Kim Fisher. Mr. Fisher continues his father's unwavering quest for lost treasures and the constant pursuit and development of new treasure hunting techniques, as well as maintaining a world-class conservation laboratory to ensure that the treasures live on for generations.

Amos Nachoum -- "The Ambassador of the Big Animals"
Mr. Nachoum brings attention to some of the most fragile regions of the underwater realm through his photos and essays which appeared in hundreds of publications around the globe, including National Geographic, Time, Life and The New York Times. He has been profiled in television appearances on National Geographic Explorer, Today, and Good Morning America, as well as featured in People, Esquire, and Money magazines.

Heather Knowles and David Caldwell -- "Sinking off Cape Ann - The Story of the U.S.S. Nezinscot."
While steaming to Boston, the U.S.S. Nezinscot capsized and sank when a deck load shifted in heavy seas off Cape Ann, Massachusetts in 1909. Ms. Knowles and Mr. Caldwell will describe the story of the U.S.S. Nezinscot -- its sinking, the sensational aftermath following the tragedy, and one group's discovery and exploration of the wreck nearly 98 years later in 240 feet of water.

Dr. Richard A. Cooper -- "SeaBase1 - Ocean Floor Habitat."
Dr. Cooper is a world-famous undersea explorer, a veteran aquanaut of 5 ocean floor saturation diving programs (SeaLab III, Tektite 2, Helgoland, Project FISSHH and Deep Diver) and has logged over 2,000 hours "bottom time" with SCUBA. Dr. Cooper will discuss the proposed SeaBase1 which will support 25 aquanauts doing research, education and facilities development in a pristine coral reef eco-system. The SeaBase 1 Program could revitalize America's "Man in the Sea Program" of the 1960s and 1970s.

Read more...

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Book on Seafaring Bermuda Slaves Wins Award

Bernews - 

The first ever social and cultural account of 18th century Bermuda – and the first book to explore the unique ties between black and white Bermudian mariners whose seafaring exploits aboard the island’s cedar sloops opened a new chapter in Atlantic maritime history – has won a top academic prize in the US.

University of Rochester historian Michael Jarvis has won the 2010 James A. Rawley Prize in Atlantic History for his book “The Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680-1783″. The honour is given to a single recipient each year by the American Historical Association, the country’s premier scholarly organisation for historians.

The Rawley Prize recognises a work of outstanding scholarship and literary merit that explores aspects of the Atlantic world before the 20th century. It will be presented to Mr. Jarvis in January during the association’s annual meeting in Boston.

Writing for the selection committee, Mia Bay, a professor of history at Rutgers University, called the work “Atlantic history at its best.” She lauded the study for bringing to light “the far-flung worlds of Bermuda’s free and enslaved seafaring men and their families,” and for “illuminating the many, and at times unexpected, ties of empire.”

Published this past April by the University of North Carolina Press, “In the Eye of All Trade” was greeted by scholars as “inspired” and a “signal achievement.” The study, wrote Georgetown University historian Alison Games, “will make it impossible for historians to ignore the island any longer.”

The book explores the social and economic history of 18th-century Bermuda through the eyes of the island’s seafarers. Jarvis takes readers aboard small Bermudian sloops and follows white and enslaved sailors throughout the British North American and Caribbean colonies. He shows how these sailors and slaves shuttled cargoes between ports, raked salt, harvested timber, salvaged shipwrecks, hunted whales, captured prizes, and smuggled contraband.

In the process, Mr. Jarvis details the unique character of maritime slavery, revealing dimensions of slaves’ living and working conditions beyond the plantation. He also documents how Bermuda’s small family-owned ships helped to link together the economies of the British colonies in “significant but underappreciated” ways and how those vibrant trade relationships were disrupted by the American Revolution and ultimately ended with the creation of an independent United States.

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11 November 2010

Regrets over scuba killing

Rosanne Barrett - 

The coroner who recommended Gabe Watson be charged with murder over the scuba diving death of his new bride says he was disappointed. 

He says he is dismayed at the deal struck by Queensland authorities, under which the American will be released from jail this week.

Retired north Queensland coroner David Glasgow told The Australian he believed there was "a very good case" to be made against Watson for the murder of his wife, Tina Mae, who drowned while scuba diving in 2003.

David Gabriel Watson, better known as Gabe, 33, will be released from Brisbane's high-security Borallon prison on Thursday, having served 18 months' jail after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

"I'm disappointed that it didn't go to a hearing so the matter could be tested as to whether he did or did not murder the woman," Mr Glasgow said.

Read more...

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Mich. museum remembers Edmund Fitzgerald sinking

online.wsj - 

A ceremony is planned in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to mark the 35th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point is holding its annual memorial service on Wednesday night. The public is welcome, but seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

The museum sits not far from where the 729-foot ore freighter sank in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975. All 29 men aboard were killed.

The sinking spawned a well-known song by Gordon Lightfoot, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

Also Wednesday, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle in Detroit hosts its annual Lost Mariners Remembrance ceremony.

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10 November 2010

5 Lessons Learned From The Deepwater Horizon You Can Use Today To Keep Yourself Safe

gCaptain -

The Deepwater Horizon tragedy teaches the general public and regulators about the safety culture in the offshore industry and the environmental risk associated with deepwater drilling. As a seagoing professional, here are five things you can do to keep you safer while working at sea.

Proximity And Preparedness

The physical and mental state of the Deepwater Horizon survivors varied considerably from minor cuts and burns to traumatic head injury and panic. The extent of these injuries where directly related to two factors; proximity to the initial explosions and personal preparedness.

Brent Mansfield, the rig’s 1st Engineer and graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy, was as well trained as anyone on the rig in emergency procedures yet he was the most critically injured with a deep fracture to his skull. That night Mansfield was in the Engine Control Room adjacent to the first explosion which occurred in a main diesel generator. There is little Brent could have done to avoid his injuries, his physical proximity to the explosion being the primary cause of his injuries.

The second most critically injured that night was Buddy Trahan who had suffered multiple bone fractures and significant burns after being pinned beneath a cabinet near the explosion. The fractures Trahan received where directly related to his proximity to the blast but the burns might have been avoided if he had been wearing fire resistant coveralls.

Lower on the list of injured persons was the rig’s OIM who had been taking a shower in his cabin, a fair distance from the first explosion. According to his testimony he found a towel and some clothes but struggled to find his boots and coveralls in the darkness of his cabin. He had no communication with the bridge and, therefore, was unaware of the dangers he would encounter. During his escape to the bridge subsequent explosions blew insulation and debris onto him, essentially tar and feathering his body and rendering him functionally blind.

Apart from their initial proximity to the flames a second factor determined the types of injuries these three individuals suffered, the time between knowledge of a problem and the time of injury. Brent Mansfield had the shortest interval of time with only seconds between high gas alarms sounding and unconsciousness. He had no time to prepare.

Buddy Trahan, having checked in with the subsea engineer minutes before the explosion, was the first to know something was wrong that night yet he did not know the immediacy of the problem in time to don coveralls or other PPE that would have prevented burns. The OIM was relatively safe in his cabin during the first blast with a modest amount of time to prepare himself yet he received his injuries during the escape.

Read more...

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Nearly 4,500 stranded on cruise ship off Mexico

Julie Watson -

A cruise ship stranded offshore with 4,500 passengers and crew must be towed slowly into a Mexican port and will not arrive until at least Wednesday night, the Coast Guard said Tuesday.

The Carnival Splendor was 200 miles south of San Diego when an engine room fire cut its power early Monday, according to a statement from Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines.

The 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members were not hurt and the fire was put out, but the 952-foot ship had no air conditioning, hot water or telephone service. Auxiliary power allowed toilets and cold running water to be restored Monday night.

The Mexican Riviera-bound ship, which was drifting about 55 miles off the northern Baja California coast, was in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard, which deployed aircraft and ships along with the U.S. Navy and Mexican Navy.

Two Mexican seagoing tugboats contracted out of the port of Ensenada were expected to reach the cruise ship at midday Tuesday and arrive back at the port around 8 p.m. PST Wednesday, Coast Guard Petty Officer Kevin Metcalf said.

Metcalf said the tugs, which will be escorted by a Coast Guard cutter, must move slowly because the ship is so big.

Passengers will be taken by bus to California, said Joyce Oliva, a Carnival spokeswoman. She said she was unaware of any safety concerns from passengers or their families about traveling by bus in Mexico.

Ensenada is about 50 miles south of the nearest U.S. border crossing, in San Diego.

Once passengers are dropped off, the Splendor will be towed back to Long Beach, Calif., a journey that will take days. That's why the passengers will be dropped off in Mexico first.

"They didn't want to keep them aboard any longer than they had to," Metcalf said. "They're running only critical systems as of now."

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, conducting maneuvers 120 miles south of San Diego, was diverted to help the ship. About 70,000 pounds of supplies, including bread, utensils, cups, milk, canned food and other items, will be flown to the Reagan, where helicopters will transfer them to the stricken cruise ship, Cmdr. Greg Hicks said.

The Splendor's seven-day voyage, which began in Long Beach, was canceled and guests will get refunds, reimbursement for transportation costs and a free future cruise of equal value, the cruise line said.

After the fire, passengers were first asked to move from their cabins to the ship's upper deck, but eventually allowed to go back to their rooms. Bottled water and cold food were being provided.

"We know this has been an extremely trying situation for our guests and we sincerely thank them for their patience," Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill said in the statement. "Conditions on board the ship are very challenging and we sincerely apologize for the discomfort and inconvenience our guests are currently enduring."

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Offshore Vessels LLC to Pay $2.1M in Penalties

maritimereporter - 

A Louisiana ship-operating company was sentenced in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on charges related to the illegal discharge of oil into the oceans, the Justice Department announced. Offshore Vessels LLC (OSV) was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $1,750,000 and remit a payment of $350,000 as community service to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. The community service funds are to be used to study polar water pollution and protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the Antarctic region. OSV also will serve a period of probation for three years, during which it will be required to operate under an Environmental Compliance Plan. OSV pleaded guilty on July 22, 2010, to knowingly discharging waste oil from one of its vessels, in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).

"The criminal fine in this case will serve as a strong deterrent to all vessel companies, American and foreign, against deliberately violating the laws enacted to protect oceans," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. "The required payment will provide a means of studying polar water oil pollution and its impact on Antarctica’s fragile marine ecosystem."

OSV owned and operated the R/V Laurence M. Gould (R/V Gould). The R/V Gould was a 2,966 gross ton American-flagged vessel that served as an ice-breaking research vessel for the National Science Foundation on research voyages to and from Antarctica. In its guilty plea earlier this year, OSV admitted that crew members knowingly discharged oily wastewater from the bilge tank of the R/V Gould overboard to the high seas, in violation of APPS. In doing so, they bypassed the ship’s oily-water separator, a pollution-control device. Regulations promulgated under APPS require that oily wastewater be discharged only after it has been sent through an oily water separator.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Criminal Investigative Service. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Daniel Dooher of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dorothy Manning Taylor.

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First piracy trial in 200 years opens in Norfolk court

Tim McGlone -

Jury selection Tuesday in the federal trial of five Somali nationals accused of attacking the frigate Nicholas gave a pretty good indication of the demographics of Hampton Roads.

More than 80 percent of the jury pool said they had direct ties to the military. But only four prospective jurors said they could not be unbiased because of those ties.

Opening statements in the trial are expected today after jury selection consumed all of Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

This is the first piracy trial this country has seen in nearly 200 years.

The five Somalis were brought into the courthouse wearing their jail-issued jumpsuits. They then changed into dress shirts, pants and borrowed sport coats before heading into the courtroom.

The Somalis each had an ear piece and were listening to the proceedings through an interpreter. Before the jurors were brought in, U.S. District Judge Mark S. Davis admonished prosecutors, the defendants and their five attorneys to behave.

"No antics," he warned. "I want this to be a serious and straight forward trial."

The Somalis are charged in a 14-count indictment with piracy, attack to plunder a vessel, assault and related charges in the April 1 early morning attack on the Norfolk-based Nicholas. Piracy, the most serious charge, carries a mandatory term of life in prison.

Some of the Somalis are expected to say at the trial that they were forced to take part in ship attacks off the Somali coast by the real pirates, who got away that day. They also are expected to say they were lost at sea and only fired a weapon to get help from the U.S. Navy ship.

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Oldest Fossilized Shrimp

Science Daily - 

Rodney Feldmann, professor emeritus, and Carrie Schweitzer, associate professor, from Kent State University's Department of Geology report on the oldest fossil shrimp known to date in the world. The creature in stone is as much as 360 million years old and was found in Oklahoma. Even the muscles of the fossil are preserved.

Their study will be published in Journal of Crustacean Biology.

"The oldest known shrimp prior to this discovery came from Madagascar," Feldmann said. "This one is way younger, having an age of 'only' 245 million years, making the shrimp from Oklahoma 125 million years older."

The fossil shrimp, having a length of about 3 inches, was found by fellow paleontologist Royal Mapes of Ohio University and his students. Feldmann and Schweitzer named the fossil after him: Aciculopoda mapesi.

The discovery is also one of the two oldest decapods ('ten footed') to which shrimp, crabs and lobsters belong. The other decapod, Palaeopalaemon newberryi, is of similar age and was found in Ohio and Iowa. "The shrimp from Oklahoma might, thus, be the oldest decapod on earth," Feldmann explained.

The fossil is a very important step in unraveling the evolution of decapods. However, more finds are necessary. "The common ancestor of the two species can probably be found in rocks that once formed the old continent Laurentia," Schweitzer said. "Nowadays, these rocks can be found primarily in North America and Greenland. Who's going to find it? Possibly by one of the numerous amateur collectors, who often graciously donate specimens to science."

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Rodney Feldmann/NOAA

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Oceania's seafaring ancients make journey to Paris

Expatica - 

Ancient seafarers who launched one of the world's swiftest migrations, settling the virgin islands of remote Oceania 3,000 years ago, have brought their story to Paris for an unprecedented new exhibit.

The Lapita, as the ancient Oceanic people are known, were all-but-unheard of just a few decades ago.

But since the mid-1990s the discovery of a body of highly-distinctive potteries, spread across some 250 sites, has shed light on how the Lapita set out over uncharted waters, bringing their language and culture with them.

Now, for two months starting on Tuesday, the Quai Branly museum of tribal arts in Paris is hosting what is being billed as the first ever comprehensive exhibition on the people's artefacts and history.

"For indigenous people in the region, this is their heritage," said Stuart Bedford of the Australian National University of Canberra, who has studied the Lapita for the past 15 years and is co-curating the Paris exhibit.

"But it's also a great human migratory story, an extraordinary chapter in the colonisation of the planet -- of this vast area that was uninhabited until just 3,000 years ago.

Many of the pieces on show have never left the region, according to Bedford, who lives and works in Vanuatu, home to many of the richest Lapita sites.

The Lapita's story is part of a wider pattern of migration that saw Southeast Asian peoples head south from Taiwan to Papua New Guinea and as far as the main Solomon islands, where they stopped some 40,000 years ago.

Then, after a break of tens of thousands of years, the Lapita took once again to the open seas around 3,300 years ago, pushing east past the Solomon Islands to the Bismarck archipelago and beyond to Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa.

Wherever they went, they left behind archaeological "markers" in the form of distinctive potteries, decorated with complex, dotted motifs, whose discovery is now enabling researchers to retrace their route over the waters.

"Pacific islanders have an oral tradition of seafaring stories that were dismissed by scientists," said Bedford, who works in partnership with Vanuatu communities that train up local fieldworkers to assist with excavations.

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09 November 2010

French go cold on Channel swimmers

Neil Tweedie -

Captain Matthew Webb relied on port and meat pies to get him across - a more civilised, and British, form of nourishment than the nutrient gels favoured by today's brand of aquatic masochist.

Either way, swimming the English Channel is no picnic. Breaking waves, fog, jellyfish and the debilitating effects of long-term immersion in cold water make it as much of a trial as ever. And now there is another obstacle: the French.

On the other side of the Channel, or La Manche as they call it, they have developed a rather po-faced attitude to this test of stamina. After banning attempts starting from the French side in 1996, they are threatening to ban the practice entirely.

''This continuous increase of swimming creates a danger which is getting more and more important every year,'' said Jean-Christophe Burvingt, the French coastguard's chief wet blanket. ''I think there will be a collision.''

The English Channel is the world's busiest seaway, witnessing about 500 ship movements a day. A 45,000-tonne container ship travelling at 25 knots requires two or three kilometres to stop. Despite this and other dangers, more and more people insist on following Webb, a merchant seaman, who was the first to swim the Channel in 1875.

Charitable fund-raising is often the spur and there were 260 attempts between June and October.

''We are concerned these crossings are unregulated and growing at an expedient [sic] rate,'' said Chris Newey, the passenger director of the ferry company DFDS, and a supporter of more regulation. ''We do not want to pour cold water on what can be a fund-raising activity. However, our first and foremost priority is the health and safety and welfare of those at sea.''

Nonsense, said Michael Read, the president of the Channel Swimming Association, one of two unofficial bodies that organise crossings. ''Channel swimming has been going for 135 years and I can't believe the French would want to ban it. The CSA keeps numbers under control and annual quotas are agreed with the French coastguard.''

Michael Oram, the secretary of the rival organisation, the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation, also dismisses this latest evocation of the health and safety culture.

''Safety is first, second and third with us,'' he said.

Swimmers must be accompanied by pilot boats whose crews use poles with nets on the end to supply them. One touch on a boat's side results in disqualification.

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Former diver honored by friends and family

Doug Fraser - 

yes, they had all purchased a piece of his scuba-diving equipment that they added to the gear they carried on their own dives.

They had even had a headstone made of a granite pedestal he had recovered from a wreck off Nauset Beach in Orleans.

But what about something that really spoke to them about the guy they knew. The guy with the infectious laugh, who didn't waste time worrying, but saw life as an adventure. He was a banker for 22 years, but spent every free moment outside of family time and work, on boats, searching out and diving on shipwrecks.

"I think Alec always wanted to be a marine biologist, but he never had that education, so he took on diving," said his father Revis McGinley.

For 23 years, and over 1,000 dives, McGinley was dive teacher Don Ferris' apt pupil, and diving partner. He attained the black belt of diving, becoming a master diver.

"He had a tremendous eye for seeing things underwater, and was a natural for finding underwater artifacts," recalled Ferris.

For the past five years, McGinley and Don McNichol, 64, both Brewster residents, had been inseparable buddies on the sea and on land.

"You call people up and they can't go for one reason or another, but he'd go," said McNichol. "It was a really big loss for me. I couldn't believe it when his dad called me. It was just devastating."

Last winter, at a gathering of 50 divers who had all dived with McGinley, Ferris held up a brass porthole he'd salvaged off the wreck of the Horatio Hall and proposed a memorial. A magnificent shipwreck nearly 300 feet in length, the Hall sank in 1909 a few miles off Chatham and was one of McGinley's favorite dives.

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Free-diving with Tanya Streeter: The Big Blue experience

Charles Starmer-Smith -

Inspired by the film 'The Big Blue', Charles Starmer-Smith takes the plunge in the Caribbean with the free-diving world record holder Tanya Streeter.

"Just concentrate on my chest," says the blonde-haired, bikini-clad mermaid sitting in front of me. With my wife looking on, I try not to look open-mouthed, but as her diaphragm expands, then her lungs, filling with up to six litres of air, it is difficult not to.

As far as free-diving tutors go, Tanya Streeter – who defied all her male rivals to set some 10 world records and was once described by Sports Illustrated as "the perfect athlete" – takes some beating. And as for places to learn, Amanyara – the luxurious Aman resort on Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos – is not too shabby, either.

It was on this Caribbean island that Tanya set her world record dive of 525ft (160m) on a single gulp of air in 2002 and where, eight years later, she has returned for a fortnight (to coincide with the peak of whale migration season) to teach, talk and inspire the guests.

I have long been captivated by Luc Besson's The Big Blue, the story of two friends who push each other to ever greater free-diving depths – a story told with wonderful underwater cinematography. I think it is the purity and accessibility of the sport that most appeals. From the ancient Greek spear fishermen and pearl divers of the Middle East and Orient to the urinatores, the marine war unit of the Roman Empire, it has always been about you, your lungs and the big blue. Anyone with access to water can have a go.

But I feel privileged to be learning from the best. First, how to use my diaphragm to maximise my lung capacity, for we use only a fraction of our capability; then, how to regulate my breathing and lower my heart rate – Tanya's drops to as little as 10 beats a minute when she dives. I listen intently as she explains how we all have a "mammalian dive reflex", an instinctive response to cold water that triggers a series of protective physiological changes that can help you achieve the above.

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Coral reefs under siege from acidic oceans

Doyle Rice - 

Ocean acidification, a potentially disastrous consequence of global warming, is threatening the early life cycle of coral reefs near Florida and throughout the Caribbean, according to a new study published Monday.

While other research has looked at how the world's increasingly acidic oceans affect adult coral, this is the first one to document its impact on coral's early life stages.

Coral reefs don't just make pretty screen savers — they provide $30 billion of economic benefit to the USA each year through tourism, diving, coastal protection, commercial fishing and fishing communities, according to study lead author Rebecca Albright of the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Globally, she cites a 2003 study that found the coral reef industry is valued at $375 billion annually.

"There have been very few, if any studies that had looked at the effects on early life-history stages, such as fertilization, larval settlement and recruitment," Albright says. "Recruitment" refers to the process of replacing dead coral with new coral.

Over the next century, the study found that recruitment of new corals could drop by as much as 73%.

Read more...

Evan D'Alessandro, University of Miami

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Mapping the Response to BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

geoplatform.gov -

The dynamic nature of the BP oil spill has been a challenge for a range of communities – from hotel operators to fishermen to local community leaders. We know the American people have questions about how the federal government is responding to this crisis, and we are committed to providing the answers with clarity and transparency. The site you’re viewing right now is a symbol of that commitment.

GeoPlatform.gov/gulfresponse is a new online tool that provides you with near-real time information about the response effort.  Developed by NOAA with the EPA, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Interior, the site offers you a “one-stop shop” for spill response information.

The site integrates the latest data the federal responders have about the oil spill’s trajectory with fishery area closures, wildlife data and place-based Gulf Coast resources — such as pinpointed locations of oiled shoreline and current positions of deployed research ships — into one customizable interactive map.

GeoPlatform.gov/gulfresponse employs the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®) a web-based GIS platform developed by NOAA and the University of New Hampshire’s Coastal Response Research Center. ERMA was designed to facilitate communication and coordination among a variety of users — from federal, state and local responders to local community leaders and the public. The site was designed to be fast and user-friendly, and we plan to keep it constantly updated.

Click the map below to use the tool yourself and see the latest information about the oil spill’s trajectory, shipping information, fishery closures and where responders are taking action.

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08 November 2010

U.S. Navy Divers are Made in Panama City

David E. Demarest -

Recreational divers know the Gulf waters near Panama City as a hot dive spot, but few know that all U.S. Navy divers get their start at Panama City’s Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC), on Naval Support Activity.

Over 89 days, young men and women - some fresh out of Navy boot camp, others with years of service under their belts - must pass grueling physical tests, designed to push them beyond their limits. They must excel in the academic arena as well, before they can earn their Class “A” Diver certification.

By the time they arrive at dive school, students’ ranks have already been culled. It takes more just to get to NDSTC these days, and once here, the rigorous training will diminish their numbers even further. The first weeks, especially, are physically and mentally exhausting. Physical training starts at daybreak, and can last three to four hours, as Navy Chiefs try to find out what the students are made of, and expand the student’s threshold for pain.

As Chief Michael Duff, USN, explains, no matter what their prior experience is, no one gets an easy ride through the program.

“Intestinal fortitude is a challenge here for just about everybody. When I was a student here they told me, 'Everyone here is going to have THAT day. Your day may be today, it may be tomorrow, it may be next week, but you're going to have THAT day while you're here. It's the day when you've got nothing left to give, and you're going to have to reach inside and find it when you think you can't go any further.

As a student here, I remember being in the leaning-rest -- the push-up position -- and saying, 'Okay, if I'm still here in 2-minutes, I'm quitting. I can't possibly stay here.' And five minutes later, you're still there, and you're going to have to tough it out, to find that within yourself.'

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Scripps plays role in national research of sea trash

Lily Leung -

Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla will count plastic particles that were collected during an October voyage by scientists studying the impact of debris on marine creatures and humans.

Those on the expedition - sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - found the plastic and other items in the "great Pacific garbage patch." The Texas-sized mass of floating objects in north Pacific Ocean has attracted interest from researchers worldwide, including some in Indonesia who joined the NOAA voyage.

Scientists from Scripps, based at the University of California San Diego, have done their own research on the vortex of plastic and have talked about plans to search for plastic in the South Pacific Ocean. The northern gyre has included everything from detergent bottles to toothbrushes, though most of the items are microscopic.

Besides plastic, scientists on the October trip collected samples of plankton, small organisms that may have consumed plastic bits. The effort was intended to fill gaps in data from parts of the Pacific Ocean, such as the stretch between Guam and Hawaii.

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Peggy Peattie / Union-Tribune

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Yellow submarine in coelacanth search

Bobby Jordan -

It's yellow, light on fuel and drives best in wet weather. Now the National Research Foundation's first fully owned underwater research vehicle is on a mission to find a mysterious fish - 100m below rush-hour shipping traffic.
 
The remotely controlled 90kg Falcon Sea-eye will plumb the depths of the country's East Coast near Sodwana Bay early next year in search of the rare coelacanth, a strange "legged" fish once hailed as a "missing link".

The government-owned vehicle - which cost around R3-million, including support equipment - was tested last year off the coast of Mossel Bay.

"There is more territorial area under water in South Africa than there is on land. The deep ocean really is a new frontier that we know very little about," said Dr Angus Paterson, manager of the African Coelacanth Environmental Programme within the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB). "Almost everything we do is new."

The Sea-eye has already provided useful information and images, thanks to cameras mounted on its back. It also carries lights, a laser-scaling device to measure object size and distance, and a manipulator arm that can pick up small objects.

The driving team sit on the surface in a research vessel and watch the journey on a large TV screen.

Said Paterson: "Basically there is a need for South Africa to have its own research capacity in the deep-water environment. This ROV (remotely operated vehicle) currently goes down to about 300m, but we are looking to get one that could go down to 1000m."

He said the SAIAB team were also keen to research the effect of deep-sea trawling on the ocean bed. Results could assist in setting up offshore marine reserves in areas where the seabed and fish stocks need protection.

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A hotel like no other in Arctic Norway

 Kevin Rushby -

A trek to a ship-hotel frozen into the ice in the middle of the Arctic wastes makes for the trip of a lifetime – as long you can keep your feet warm.

It's an idea so simple, so beautiful, that you can't believe it was not thought of before. Sail a ship into the Arctic as the winter freeze grips, let it get trapped in ice, then run visitors out there by dog sled or skidoo. And if that vessel is special – like a two-masted tall ship – all the better: the trip becomes something imbued with adventure, redolent with the traditions of Shackleton and Nansen, something to conjure up faded sepia images of the Fram and the Endurance, of explorers with icy beards, and heroism on the limits of human endurance. This is what Basecamp Explorer has done.

Flying in to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard from Tromsø in northern Norway, I am gripped myself, with the sheer excitement of it all. Behind me a group of men with fur-lined hoods are trading extreme travel anecdotes. "So we built a barrier with skis to keep the bears out..." "There were narwhals all around the ice floe..." But for me there are no such stories. I'm a hot country person – always have been. This is a first taste of the Arctic and, before I even contemplate anything as extreme as narwhal-besieged ice floes, I want to know if I could handle the conditions. I have – I have to admit – two very large doubts, both of them size nine and already encased in three pairs of socks.

The first surprise is how light it is at midnight in late March. The Arctic changes from total darkness to total light within two months, a difference of about half an hour a day from mid-February. The second surprise, as I walk to the small modern airport terminal, is the cold. It settles around you like a super-cooled over-excited lover: nibbling your ears, licking your eyeballs. And it doesn't stop. Not for day, not for night, not for man, woman or beast. For the entire trip, it goes on trying to get inside your clothing.

Longyearbyen, the capital city, population about 2,000, stands on one of the fjords of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the archipelago. Around the few buildings, which are mostly grey, the ground is white. The surrounding mountains are white, too; the fjord is frozen white and nothing at all is green. I get out of the car and stand in the street, looking down towards the fjord and the mountains beyond. When the wind blows it smudges away the certainties of ridge and horizon, and replaces them with subtle suggestions of great and aching beauty. It also bites the end of your nose off.

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Treasure Hunt

Wendy Williams -

THE Spanish are in a race to save their treasure from modern day pirates.

Following the ongoing controversy that surrounds the raising of the Spanish galleon ‘Black Swan’ by US exploration company Odyssey in 2007, the Spanish navy wants to make sure that next time they are first on the scene.

The ship, found off the coast of Spain, is believed to be the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes sunk by the English navy in 1804.

And who owns the rights to the valuable shipwreck and its 350 million euro booty in gold and silver coins, is still a matter for the courts.

Last year, a U.S. court ruled the loot belongs to Spain but the company has appealed and is still holding the treasure in the United States.

Now, the Spanish navy is searching for more wrecks off the coast in a bid to protect the country’s historical heritage from private salvagers.

Three Spanish navy vessels, including two minesweepers and 100 navy personnel are devoting two months to the project.

So far, they have found around 100 sites of possible shipwrecks and since the operation was launched on September 8, in the waters off Cadiz, they have investigated 15 of them.

At present their only discovery is an 18th-century anchor.

But Spain’s defence and culture minsters Carme Chacón and Ángeles González-Sinde, who went along for the ride, are keen to emphasise the serious nature of the operation.

Chacon said: “Where some see loot, we see our history. Where some look for gold, we find our heritage. Where others would seek to pillage, our calling is to conserve.”

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A Perilous Passage to the Mentawai Islands

Nivell Rayda

After four days in the Mentawai Islands, I had pretty much mastered the main topics of conversation among locals: the weather, the sea and when the next boat is scheduled to leave.

Located about 170 kilometers off the western coast of Sumatra, the Mentawais can be reached by a 10-hour boat ride from the West Sumatra capital, Padang.

But this was not the route I took to get there.

Susi Air, one of the biggest private charter plane companies in the country, opened a route to the islands on Oct. 18, a week before an earthquake-triggered tsunami hit four of the chain’s major islands on Oct. 25, killing at least 430 people leaving 70 missing.

The remoteness of the islands only struck me when our 12-seater Cessna landed on an airstrip near the village of Rokot. “Ooh, the wind is very strong. Let’s just hope the waves are not that high and the boat ride is OK,” said Jevisan, a Susi Air official.

Jevisan is in charge of everything, from ticketing to administration to ensuring that passengers get from Rokot to Tuapejat, a sleepy town of 3,000 that does not resemble any district capital that I had ever been to.

I was told to get on a seven-meter-long wooden boat, which Jevisan said would take us to Tuapejat.

The boat kept swaying from left to right, pushed around by the two-meter-high waves. Occasionally, water would splash into the cabin, drenching the passengers on board.

I was concerned about the four items with me that I considered precious: my wallet, laptop, cellphone and camera.

Luckily, everything stayed dry, thanks to a 1960s invention by a Swedish chemist, Sten Gustaf Thulin, called the plastic bag.

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Photos/Nivell Rayda

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07 November 2010

'Drowned voice' of pristine phonograph found at Yukon site of sunken ship

By Randy Boswell

Divers equipped with digital scanners have created a set of groundbreaking, 3-D images of the legendary Klondike-era sternwheeler A.J. Goddard, which sank in a Yukon lake in 1901 and was only discovered two years ago by a team of Canadian archeologists.

The imaging system, similar to one used recently to document the wreck of the Titanic off Newfoundland's east coast, was employed during an expedition this summer to the sunken-but-perfectly-preserved Goddard — a dive that also produced a stunning new artifact: the vintage phonograph used to entertain fortune-seekers on their long, northward steamboat voyage to the Klondike gold fields.

"They're not only stunning and amazing images, they're also an accurate measuring tool," Canadian marine archeologist James Delgado, one of the experts involved in the Goddard project, told Postmedia News.

The precise 3-D model of the wreck was generated with scanning equipment supplied by the U.S. firms Oceangate and BlueView Technologies.

While documenting the boat's pristine condition, the researchers also spotted and collected several relics that were missed during earlier dives to the Goddard, which was declared an official historic site by the Yukon government earlier this year.

Corked bottles with their liquids still intact, leather footwear and other items were added to previous discoveries of tools and clothing.

"There was a bottle with vanilla extract still in it," said Delgado, former head of the Vancouver Maritime Museum and now director of marine archeology with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Talk about the proverbial miner's cabin that you stumble across," he said. "Here's one under water — the Goddard really does represent a time capsule."

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'The Pinta' and 'The Nina" sail into Knoxville

From The Associated Press

Modern-Day Volunteer Landing looks more like Spain in 1492 thanks to two replicas of Christopher Columbus' ships The Nina and The Pinta.

The ships have docked at Calhouns Restaurant on the River where they will be open for tours through November 17. On the morning of November 18, they will sail out of town.

The ships were built by the Columbus Foundation, a group out of the U.S. Virgin Islands that builds replicas of famous ships to use as a teaching tool.

The Nina was built completely by hand (without power tools). It has been called "the most historically correct Columbus replica ever built" by Archaeology magazine.

The Pinta is a new ship. It was built in Brazil to travel with The Nina. The Pinta is larger than The Nina and offers a larger deck space for tourists. In fact, the Pinta is so much bigger than The Nina, there was actually a minor incident as she pulled into Volunteer Landing.

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Yo-ho, jihad !

By Adrian Tinniswood

If you instinctively object to the fashionable (in some quarters) assertion that modern Islamic terrorism can be laid to Muslim reaction to the West's racial oppression, this book is a must read.

What this book is not is a collection of ripping yarns about hearty sea dogs bent on plunder under the banner of the Jolly Roger.

Rather, it is a thoroughly researched and highly readable account of how and why the tiny, impoverished enclaves that hugged the Mediterranean coast of North Africa turned to piracy in the 1600s and subjected the powerful merchant nations of Europe to robbery of their cargos and enslavement of their sailors for nearly 250 years before anyone had heard of Somali pirates seizing oil tankers or of al Qaeda.

British historian Adrian Tinniswood makes a valid point that one man's piracy is another nation's foreign policy. During the Crusades, the religious knights who sought to free the Holy Land did not scruple to grab an errant Ottoman merchant vessel and enslave its crew.

And almost from the time the New World was discovered, most of the exploring powers took great joy in seizing one another's treasure ships; Elizabeth I ennobled some of the more rapacious of her sea dogs. Our own hallowed War of Independence was financed largely by doughty privateers such as John Paul Jones who captured British merchant vessels and took them into French ports so Benjamin Franklin could swap them for vital war materials.

Piracy was thus a well-established fact of seagoing life, and Mr. Tinniswood has made good use of the archives that he trawled through in Britain's dusty maritime records. There are plenty of sea battles and daring exploits to satisfy the taste of the armchair admiral. But this is a story of timeless politics that has a timely ring to it.

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Scientists Fear Oil Is Settling on Bottom of Gulf

By Jeffrey Ball

The federal government is concerned that oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill may be settling on the ocean floor, causing environmental damage where it's hardest to see.

Scientists who finished a government-sponsored research expedition Thursday reported finding a small area of dead and dying corals covered with an unknown brown material on the bottom of the Gulf, about seven miles from where a BP PLC well gushed millions of barrels of oil into the water this year.

The environmental damage likely resulted from the BP spill, said Charles Fisher, a biologist at Penn State University and the chief scientist on the trip, in a statement Friday.

"The circumstantial evidence is extremely strong and compelling, because we have never seen anything like this," said Mr. Fisher, who, with other scientists, worked on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship.

NOAA and other federal officials said the researchers did not find such damage at most sites they studied.

Earlier this year, another group of researchers reported finding what they said appeared to be oil in sediment along the Gulf floor at various spots as far as 40 miles from the BP well.

It's not yet clear whether the researchers have found oil, or if they did, whether that oil is from the BP well, rather than from a natural oil seep, for example.

"The real issue is, can we make the causal link?" said Steve Murawski, chief science adviser for NOAA's fisheries unit and one of the officials working to assess the spill's environmental damage. "I'm really interested to see what the brown stuff is."

NOAA is coordinating studies that collectively have taken samples of sediment at more than 450 spots on the Gulf floor, some as far as 180 miles from the well. But tests analyzing the content of the samples won't be back for weeks or months, he said.

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Panicked Merapi Residents Consider Leaving as Eruptions Get Worse

By Dessy Sagita

Pujogiri Sulistya has lived in Yogyakarta all his life, but the 45-year-old never thought he would have to be afraid of the volcano that looms over the bustling city of 400,000 people.

Just after midnight on Friday morning, he realized how wrong he had been all these years.

In an eruption that shook the earth and filled the sky with dark, gray ash, Mount Merapi unleashed its most powerful outburst since it began rumbling on Oct. 26.

“I’ve been living in Yogyakarta all my life, and I had great trust that this town would never be in danger from Merapi erupting,” Pujogiri said.

From his house, he could see a lahar, a dangerous volcanic mudflow, rushing down the Code River, one of the many rivers that run down the slopes of Merapi, but the only one that flows into the city.

“Honestly, right now, I’ve started to doubt myself, and even the government,” he said.

Geologists had initially said the threat from Merapi would not go beyond the initial 10-kilometer disaster zone.

That has since been expanded to 15 km and then to 20 km on Friday after the latest eruption that killed dozens of people in a village located 18 km from the crater.

Even in Yogyakarta’s city center, some 30 kilometers from the volcano, Friday’s eruption caused widespread panic.

Jeff Woldert, who has lived in Yogyakarta for 10 years, was sleeping with his wife and daughter at their home on Jalan Kaliurang, which leads up to the mountain, when Friday’s eruption woke him.

“Around midnight, we heard a loud rumbling noise and my house started to shake for at least an hour,” he said.

“At first I thought it was an earthquake, but then I realized that earthquakes can’t last that long — it must be Merapi.”

Now, the city that is known as the heart of Javanese culture and art is covered in a thick layer of volcanic ash.

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Indonesia Reaches Out to United States President Barack Obama

By Arlina Arshad

Indonesia will seduce him with food, serenade him with gamelan musical ensembles and shower him with familial warmth, but United States President Barack Obama may disappoint old friends when he visits this week.

Many had hoped the oft-delayed visit would be a sentimental homecoming for Obama but it has been pared down to the diplomatic essentials, with no time for a visit to his old school or a stroll down memory lane with his childhood pals.

Instead the president is focusing on the big strategic picture of mending ties with the Muslim world, with a visit to the mainly Muslim's country's biggest mosque and a speech at a prestigious state university.

Even so, the symbolism of a long-lost child of the Menteng One primary school in Jakarta returning to his old stomping ground as the most powerful man in the world will be hard to escape.

"President Obama seems to be missing Indonesian food like nasi goreng and mie bakso, so we'll prepare these at the palace reception," said Julian Aldrin Pasha, a spokesman to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whom Obama will meet on Tuesday.

"There will also be a traditional dance performance ... We just hope that he'll be happy and comfortable during his stay here."

Sonny Imam Sukarso, 49, went to school with Obama in the late 1960s and remembers him as a chubby kid called Barry. He said he hoped the US president would make time to meet his old chums.

"Obama was my neighbour and elementary schoolmate. We used to play soccer together and visit each other's homes," the lawyer said.

"We understand his schedule is very tight but hopefully he will want to meet us ... He was a nice and funny person and I hope he hasn't changed.

"Hopes Obama would bring his wife Michelle to visit the primary school he attended in leafy Menteng from 1967 to 1971 were dashed when the White House announced the schedule.

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