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The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier

by Ian Urbina

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1629129,959 (3.87)9
"There are few remaining frontiers on our planet. But perhaps the wildest, and least understood, are the world's oceans: too big to police, and with no clear international authority, the oceans have become the setting for rampant criminality--from human trafficking and slavery to environmental crimes and piracy. Now, in The Outlaw Ocean, Ian Urbina--prize-winning reporter for The New York Times--gives us a galvanizing account of the several years he spent exploring and investigating the high seas, the industries that make use of it, and the people who make their--often criminal--living on it. He traveled on fishing boats and freighters, visited port towns and hidden outposts. He witnessed both environmental vigilantes and transgressors in action, and faced a near-mutiny aboard a police ship conveying him to a meeting point miles from the coast. He describes pursuing employment agencies and shipowners to hold them accountable for labor abuses, and traveling with a maritime repo man. Combining high drama, an investigative reporter's eye for detail, and a commitment to social justice, The Outlaw Ocean is both a gripping adventure story and a stunning exposé of some of the most disturbing realities that lie behind fishing, shipping, and, by turn, the entire global economy"--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier is the culmination of Ian Urbina's four years of New York Times investigative journalism chronicling piracy, slavery, poaching, rape, murder, and general lawlessness on the world's oceans. Much (though not all) of the book focuses on fishing and the fisherman caught up in this world, many of them against their will.

As the title notes, the oceans' international waters are some of the last places on earth where the law doesn't quite reach. Urbina details some of the reasons why, and tells some disturbing stories of lawlessness in the open waters. Each chapter highlights a different facet of the Outlaw Ocean. The common theme running through almost all of it is exploitation - of people, of fish and whales and coral, and other ocean wildlife, and of the ocean itself.

At places in the book Urbina also discusses some of the efforts being made to punish the guilty and to correct the incentives that fuel the exploitation and lead to outlaw behavior. He helps us understand that these efforts currently pale in comparison to the problem. In the Appendix to the book there are some details about what we as individuals can do, though the author admits the actions available to individuals are limited.

I found this book compelling, and hard to put down. If you have an interest in better understanding how your seafood gets to your table and knowing what's behind the headlines you may have seen highlighting problems on the high seas, by all means read this book. ( )
  stevrbee | Feb 7, 2021 |
Very well written with a diversity of stories that holds your attention. It really does show what a wild, wild, west that it is once you enter international waters. I might put that dream of sailing the world on ice. ( )
  kenno82 | Aug 28, 2020 |
Very good. A little less detail than the NY Times stories, but with a little more perspective. There is fantastic scope. Urbina's strength is in the (incredible) reporting, and not on describing the process of reporting. Still, the brief personal asides do add something to the book that wasn't in the NY Times, at least as far as I remember.

> Fines for the captain or insurers can run up to $50,000 per stowaway for arriving in port with them. Such costs typically doubled if cargo delays were involved. … In the two years after my New York Times story about him was published in 2015, he stowed away from Cape Town three more times, ending up twice in Senegal and once in Madagascar. He told me that each time captains discovered him on board, the shipowners paid him $1,000 to get off their vessels. This sum was enough to keep him afloat for half a year, he added.

> If he can get private access to the engine room, Hardberger carries a glass vial of magnetic powder to sprinkle on the hull where the ship’s original or "build" name has often been pried off. The shadow of the name still shows up because welding it off changes the metal's valence,

> Of all the evil things I saw while reporting for this book, the karaoke bars in Ranong were perhaps the most sinister. Not only did these brokers and bar owners use one type of trafficked migrant to entrap another type of trafficked migrant, but the sex workers and their indebted clients were both, quite often, children.

> A grown whale can scrape all the fish from a five-mile line in under an hour. To avoid snaring their own mouths, the whales bite off the fish just below the hooks. Sometimes all that's left behind, he said, are fish lips dangling from the lines. More experienced whales bite the line, shaking loose the fish so they can eat them whole.

> Purwanto said that even if there were violations, it didn't matter—he needed the job, so he would not say anything more. There was nothing else for him back in Indonesia, he said. "This is the best we can get." ( )
  breic | Jul 11, 2020 |
"For all its breathtaking beauty, the ocean is also a dystopian place, home to dark inhumanities."

The author, a NY Times reporter, describes this book as a "compendium of narratives about this unruly frontier," with each chapter covering a distinct issue surrounding the ocean and the vessels upon it. He spent 4 years, going from vessel to vessel, incident to incident, to compile the reporting contained within this book. A brief description of the contents:

1. The story of Sea Shepherd (formerly Greenpeace) and the 110 day pursuit of a notorious poacher.
2. The story of the Pacific island nation of Palau and its attempts to control its waters from illegal fishing.
3. An offshore platform in the North Sea which has declared its independence as a country, "Sealand."
4. Sea slavery. The notorious human trafficking for workers on fishing vessels, whose crews are sometimes kept offshore for years.
5. A doctor whose ship travels along the Mexican coast taking women to international waters to provide abortions.
6. "Rafted"--what happens to stowaways. Also, the use of the high seas by governments, including the US to interrogate terrorists, thus avoiding laws that apply on land.
7. A maritime repo man, and how to "steal" a ship from port.
8. The middlemen--"Manning Agencies" which provide ships with crews, thus allowing shipping companies to have plausible deniability for many abuses.
9. Offshore drilling in Brazil.
10. Sea Slavery--Thai sailors on Chinese vessels.
11. Dumping waste at sea.
12. Borders. Lots of disagreement as to where a country's borders end and international waters begin. This chapter involved a "shoot-out" and sinking between Indonesia and Vietnam over whose waters they were in.
13. "Armed and dangerous." Murder at sea. Floating armories at sea.
14. The Somali 7. How ships are licensed. Piracy.
15. Hunting Hunters. Sea Shepherd and its attempts to curtail Japanese whalers.

This was both an adventures story and an eye-opening expose of the legal and humanitarian issues arising at sea. Currently, there is no one country or entity to regulate these issues. Corruption is rampant, and there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Recommended.

3 1/2 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Jun 25, 2020 |
Superb book. Urbana looks at ocean issues primarily focusing on human issues, a concept not often found in book format. The breadth of his revelations is both illuminating and revolting. The history of man’s relationship with himself and his environment is a pretty ugly one and this presents another aspect of those confrontations. Finished 05.06.2020 at the NR. ( )
  untraveller | Jun 13, 2020 |
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"There are few remaining frontiers on our planet. But perhaps the wildest, and least understood, are the world's oceans: too big to police, and with no clear international authority, the oceans have become the setting for rampant criminality--from human trafficking and slavery to environmental crimes and piracy. Now, in The Outlaw Ocean, Ian Urbina--prize-winning reporter for The New York Times--gives us a galvanizing account of the several years he spent exploring and investigating the high seas, the industries that make use of it, and the people who make their--often criminal--living on it. He traveled on fishing boats and freighters, visited port towns and hidden outposts. He witnessed both environmental vigilantes and transgressors in action, and faced a near-mutiny aboard a police ship conveying him to a meeting point miles from the coast. He describes pursuing employment agencies and shipowners to hold them accountable for labor abuses, and traveling with a maritime repo man. Combining high drama, an investigative reporter's eye for detail, and a commitment to social justice, The Outlaw Ocean is both a gripping adventure story and a stunning exposé of some of the most disturbing realities that lie behind fishing, shipping, and, by turn, the entire global economy"--

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