The frequency of ferry disasters worldwide. Convert store gift cards to air miles.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the June 2012 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:
Welcome to the 436th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine.

Carolyn Taylor spreading the word about ITN in Memphis. Photo by Mary Jo Wilson

On Sept. 10, 2011, off of Zanzibar, Tanzania, the ferry MV Spice Islander I — licensed to carry 600 passengers — sank, resulting in more than 2,200 people dead or missing. About 600 passengers survived. The ship was carrying 100 life vests.

On Feb. 2, 2012, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the passenger ferry MV Rabaul Queen sank in rough weather on its way from the island of New Britain to the mainland port of Lae. More than 300 people died. There were 246 survivors. The ship was rated to carry 310 passengers.

On April 30, 2012, in one of India’s worst ferry disasters, an overloaded double-decker ferry broke apart and sank after rolling on its side during a storm while crossing an 8-kilometer-wide section of the Brahmaputra River in the northeastern state of Assam. At press time, 113 people were known to have died, 90 more were missing and 150 had survived. The ferry should have been carrying no more than 225 passengers.

Those are a few of the ferry disasters that made world headlines within the last year. Many more go unreported in the global media because they occurred in remote areas or the loss of life was not high enough to attract attention.

ITN researched online news for reports of deadly ferry accidents and easily found 72 having taken place from 2002 through 2011. The associated casualty/survivor lists were sketchy, at best, but almost 11,500 passengers were documented to have died, with hundreds, possibly thousands, of others missing. (Passenger lists or tallies rarely had been kept.) In 2009, 2010 and 2011, worldwide, an average of 10 ferry accidents per year made international news.

In looking over the reports, we found that the most frequent combination of causes of a ferry disaster was the ship’s being overloaded — too many people and/or too much cargo — and then going out in bad weather. Some ships had sailed in typhoon conditions.

An overloaded ship can be top-heavy or ride deeper in the water than it was designed to, leaving it less maneuverable and more vulnerable to capsizing in high winds and rough waves.

In many countries, ferries are regularly overloaded. Sometimes greedy captains allow it, and sometimes there are too few ships running a route to accommodate all the people who demand to go, and they crowd aboard. Often a ship will start the run fairly full, and as it makes stops along the route, more people get aboard but not enough get off.

Also frequently determined to be the cause of a ferry’s sinking was human error, such as the deck crew’s not watching for other ships, misjudging the distance from another ship or, as mentioned, sailing in bad weather.

Poor maintenance of a ship often was cited. For example, a rusty hull leaked, then burst open, flooding lower holds.

Contributing to a high number of deaths in many of the accidents were poor safety procedures — for example, not enough life jackets or lifeboats on board or none at all — or an untrained or inexperienced captain or crew who didn’t know safety procedures or ignored them.

Travelers should be extra cautious when boarding passenger ferries in countries known for having bad safety records. The countries that appeared most often on our list were, by far, Bangladesh and Indonesia, then the Philippines and, trailing far behind, Egypt.

The accidents with the highest death tolls almost always were those involving ferries that were making overnight or lengthy trips (with people sleeping below deck) and crossing large bodies of water: lakes, very wide rivers, delta regions or the sea.

If you’re planning to take a ferry — in any country — watch for danger signs: the overloading of cargo or passengers, poor maintenance, a lack of lifeboats or life jackets or launching in unsafe weather.

Decide how much risk you can handle. It may not be practical to bring your own flotation gear, but, at the least, if you’re in a cabin, make sure you have an escape route that you could follow in the dark.

Also, let someone on land or back home know your itinerary and the fact that you will be aboard.

As many adventurous travelers know, you should plan for the unexpected… and then trust your gut instinct.


If you’re a United Airlines MileagePlus member, now you can exchange the unused value of certain establishments’ gift cards for frequent-flyer miles to be added to your account. Among the many companies participating are Barnes & Noble; JC Penny; Bed, Bath & Beyond; PetSmart, and Fandango. For the full list and rules, visit or call 800/421-4655.

On the website, look for MileagePlus® Gift Card Exchange and type in the gift card number to learn how many dollars are left on your card (minimum balance, $25) and how many award miles you can get for them, with the federal tax noted. If you proceed, the award miles will be posted to your MileagePlus account within seven days.


Early last year, ITN publisher Armond Noble asked subscribers to respond to this question: “Where Were You in 2010?” After a couple of months, he tallied the results, then presented the list of countries not yet mentioned, asking anyone who had been to those countries in that period to write in. He mentioned that having everyone send a response helps ITN in several ways, including increasing the level of accuracy in any conclusions drawn.

More people wrote in and, sure enough, we learned that, collectively, ITN subscribers had visited every nation in the world in 2010. (It wasn’t surprising to us, but it can be to potential advertisers.) As he promised, a drawing was held, and prizes were awarded to a number of the subscribers who participated.

Several months ago, Armond updated his question, asking, “Where Were You in 2011?” Well, we’ve tallied the results, and here are the countries not yet mentioned: Algeria, Andorra, Burundi, Chad, Congo (Dem. Rep. of), Congo (Rep. of), East Timor, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Micronesia, Nauru, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Palau (Belau), Papua New Guinea, Sao Tomé & Princípe, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tuvalu or Yemen.

If you visited any of these countries in 2011, please write to Where Were You in 2011?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail So there is no confusion, include your name and mailing address (where you receive ITN).

When we’ve completed the tally, I’ll announce the results — and, yes, we’ll hold a drawing and more prizes will be awarded.


Many subscribers have logged in to gain access to our newly introduced Online Edition of this magazine, which, unlike the website that is open to the general public, includes nearly all of the textual content from even the most recent editions of the magazine.

If you’re already a subscriber, you can access the Online Edition for free just by noting the 7-digit subscriber number on the address label on your mailed copy, then visiting our website, clicking on “Sign Up” and following the instructions.

Some clarification — on the address label, the second line starts with a bunch of numbers the Post Office requires, then you’ll see “ITN” and either “03” or “01” and a hyphen. Your 7-digit subscriber number is what follows the “03-” or “01-”. And be sure to include all of the zeroes at the beginning; they are part of your 7-digit number.

For more on this, visit the FAQ page


For you subscribers who wrote in asking the whereabouts of the 2011 ITN Reference Index on our website, you’ll be happy to know that we finally posted it. We got a little behind, here, but the index is up now and lists, essentially, every article, letter and news item printed in ITN last year, making them easier to locate among your past issues when planning for a trip.

The first section of the index lists countries alphabetically, and another section lists any travel-related companies that were mentioned. Those entries are certainly helpful, but I find it most interesting to browse through the section titled Other Items of Interest. It’s amazing how much we touch on in a year. (If you don’t have access to a computer, a copy of the index will be mailed to you, on request, for $2.50.)

New — for subscribers to our Online Edition, our Web Designer, Arthur, has made it so that when you click on a listing in the index, you’re taken directly to the full text of the article, letter or news item. Convenient!


Also new to our website — the biography of our Contributing Editor Philip Wagenaar, who writes the column “The Discerning Traveler.” To say that the story of his life makes gripping reading is an understatement.


Regarding the picture at the beginning of my column, Carolyn Taylor of Memphis, Tennessee, wrote, “In February I gave a ‘Travel Packing + Tips’ workshop at my local Delta Kappa Gamma chapter, and I thought you might get a kick out of the picture of me holding up a copy of ITN and telling everyone it is the best deal of the century.

“I’m attaching the names and addresses of 20 members who want to each receive a free sample copy of the magazine. I will be doing another workshop in Sewanee, Tennessee, in June and in New York City in July, so expect more names!”

Thank you, Carolyn. As we do for anyone who requests a sample, each will be sent a copy of the next-printed issue. Hopefully, they’ll share the view of Barbara McMahon of Bethesda, Maryland, who wrote, “I love ITN. Not only is it enjoyable reading, it lets us travelers know about many things that make our traveling easier.”

The idea behind this magazine is that its subscribers — world travelers — write in to describe their discoveries and share any travel tips they can. Each of you, on your last trip, had a favorite moment or spot. This is the place to tell other interested travelers about it.