The Outlaw Ocean-crime & survival on the last untamed frontier (Ian Urbina):

Impunity is the norm at sea, not just because of the lack of enforcement but also due to the cast of characters out there who, with questionable credentials and motives, are left to take up the slack. bureaucrats rather than investigators conduct what rare inspections actually occur on vessels suspected of environmental or labor abuses. Vigilantes and private mercenaries, as much as police or navy officers, patrol the high seas and pursue scofflaws. what laws apply in international waters have been crafted over the years more by diplomats and the fishing and shipping industries than by lawmakers or labor lawyers. This has made commercial secrecy a higher priority than crime prevention.”

off-the-scales! jostling for a senior position in best books of the decade, & blowing the doors off a subject & it’s contiguous phenomena that rarely gets appropriate attention, despite the obvious urgency & rich pickings from an investigative perspective. Outlaw Ocean is an extraordinary undertaking & achievement, & it is rightfully being recognized & regaled for the opus that it is, which makes a nice change.

exhaustive reporting from all over the globe, covering modern nautical slavery, trawling, overfishing, drilling, piracy, whaling, ocean acidification, climate-related disruption & habitat negation, dumping & pollution, with plenty in between. the writing style is marvelous, constantly informative & vividly descriptive.

The efficiency of these machines reminded me of what i had concluded as i left the whale research outpost. Through time, humanity’s capacity, both legally and scientifically, for extracting life from the oceans has greatly surpassed our ability to protect it.”

Urbina’s attention to pelagic slavery is extensive & trenchant. this is part of the “hidden cost” of the over-abundance of seafood in the global culinary market, especially the West & far East, who are both the most consumptive and the most profligate in their dietary obscenities. brutal & savage medieval violence & murder abound. vicious beatings & woundings at sea & grotesque exploitation along with living conditions that are reminiscent of victorian dungeons. Thailand, Vietnam, China & Taiwan seem to be the biggest & worse offenders with insane abuses & sub-humanity replete. its never that far from home though, as David Cameron of the British Conservative party so disgustingly demonstrated via his “secret” business meetings with the billionaire Thai shipping magnate & his slave fleet that was disclosed in the “Thai Prawn Scandal” during his episode as Prime Minister.

Sexual assaults of passengers and staff on cruise liners, for example, has been especially difficult to investigate and prosecute. Cruise ships are often registered in foreign countries, the incidents occur in international waters, and the alleged perpetrators can be foreign nationals. When Congress held hearings on the problem, lawmakers discovered that nearly a third of reported sexual assaults on these ships were against minors.”

if you are looking for “smooth sailing” escapism, forget it. although never one to fail in expressing awe at the wonder around him when present (& there are lots of these moments), much of this incredible book is grim & distressing reading, a damning indictment of the species. poverty, futility, cruelty, organized crime, the feebleness of international politics & legislation, the destructive banjax of the free market & death capitalism, along with stupendous suicidal-short-termism for flash profits. its a resounding guilty verdict.

‘It’s a place with lots of temples, not much religion,’ I’d been told about the city. Along the Trang River was a string of unusually gaudy Buddhist temples, some of them half-built. As much a show of wealth as piety, these temples were commissioned mostly by the same fishing families accused of using forced labor and engaging in illegal fishing.”

even just from an “adventure” perspective, this book is like a modern-day Arabian Sands et al, with some of the most estranged, remote, esoteric, exotic & recondite areas, events, environments & situations, with an eclectic elastication of characters to match.

The quarters were so cramped that we could only fit by tucking on the floor under the crew’s hammocks, lying on our backs, lick corpses in coffins. Most of the crew had stripped down to their underwear. My nose nearly brushed the swinging hindquarters of the boy above me. Being that close to a complete stranger and breathing in his funk felt like an invasion of his privacy and a self-inflicted assault on mine. I was practiced at tolerating pungent odors, but this room was unusually challenging. Squeeze the fluids out some old football pads, add urine and pureed fish to the liquid, and boil it: such was the steamy aroma of that nook.”

an absolutely amazing endeavor of frontline journalism & an investigative milestone.

Ian Urbina, 2019, Vintage, 416 pages