King of Spain takes a pay cut

Spain's King Juan Carlos is showing solidarity with his financially-distressed country by announcing salary cuts for the royal family today. As civil servants protest pay cuts and the government struggles to stabilize the precarious economy, the royals have decided that the king and prince will take a 7-percent reduction in their salary, according to Spanish news sources. This year, King Juan Carlos and his son Prince Felipe will have to live on approximately $350,000 and $160,000 respectively.

With nearly one-quarter of the workforce currently unemployed, Spain's austerity measures are hitting the public hard. But while Madrid burned (figuratively, thankfully) under peril of financial collapse, the royal family drew ire this spring when the King was injured on an elephant hunt in Botswana.

Calls for the end of the monarchy and return of the republic ensued. Of course, with an annual budget of only $10 million, doing away with the entire monarchy would amount to savings of about .008 percent of the cost of the deal to bail out Spain's banks.

According to El Pais, the cuts to the royal budget, which were decided upon in April, will affect only the protocol budget and 11 senior officials of the monarchy. Frustration with the royals had already compelled the government to release information about the King's finances in December of 2011.

The royal family's self-imposed austerity measure will also include a 7-percent cut to protocol funds, which cover the royal party costs, for the entire royal family. How the news will play among the financially distressed Spanish public remains unclear.



Piracy moves from East to West Africa

I wrote at the end of last year about increasing rates of piracy in West Africa, even as international naval cooperation has increasingly succeeded in combating the better-known pirates off the Somali coast. According to the International Maritime Bureau's new numbers, that trend seems to be continuing in 2012.  Worldwide, pirate attacks are down, driven largely by a drop in attacks off Somalia to 9 in the first six months of this year from 163 a year earlier, but things don't look quite as promising on the West Coast: 

The decline in Somali piracy, however, has been offset by an increase of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, where 32 incidents, including five hijackings, were reported in 2012, versus 25 in 2011. In Nigeria alone there were 17 reports, compared to six in 2011. Togo reported five incidents including a hijacking, compared to no incidents during the same time last year.

The IMB report emphasized that high levels of violence were also being used against crew members in the Gulf of Guinea. Guns were reported in at least 20 of the 32 incidents. At least one crew member was killed and another later died as a result of an attack.

In Nigeria, three vessels and 61 crew members were taken hostage. Seven vessels were boarded, six fired upon and one attempted attack was reported. The report further showed that attacks by armed pirates in skiffs were occurring at greater distances from the coast, suggesting the possible use of fishing or other vessels to reach targets. On 30 June 2012 alone, three vessels were fired upon, including a tanker and a container vessel within a five-minute period, approximately 135 nautical miles from Port Harcourt.

The increase in pirate activity off Togo has also been attributed to Nigerian pirates. The five reported incidents all occurred in April, culminating with the hijacking of a Panamax product tanker by the month’s end.

Attacks are up in Indonesia as well.