This Book Investigates the Dark Side of the Open Ocean


Sail a boat about 12 miles from the coast of any ocean and you will come across oneself in international waters. Out there, the laws of the contemporary globe fall away, and far more importantly, so does virtually any type of societal scrutiny. In Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Final Untamed Frontier ($30, Knopf), journalist Ian Urbina investigates the corrupt and exploitative globe that exists on the higher seas, which we all advantage from but seldom take time to face. “An escape for some, the ocean is a prison for other people,” he writes in the introduction.

The book is structured as a series of essays on legal gray regions at sea, with examples like a ship that delivers lawful abortions in international waters and the story of a man set adrift in the Atlantic just after getting caught as a stowaway. Urbina started reporting numerous of these chapters whilst functioning as a national reporter at The New York Instances, exactly where he broke stories on sea slavery in Southeast Asia and cold-blooded executions of fishermen by Taiwanese rivals off the Horn of Africa. (He previously won a Pulitzer for his function in reporting on former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s involvement in a prostitution ring.) Taken as a complete, this physique of perform is a devastating appear at the corruption, exploitation, and trafficking that thrive on the open ocean.

(Photo: Courtesy Knopf)

Whilst Outlaw Ocean is not an adventure tale, Urbina nods to the excitement of the higher seas. “Full of devouring storms, doomed expeditions, shipwrecked sailors, and maniacal hunters, the canon of sea literature provided a vibrant image of a watery wilderness and its untamed rogues,” he writes as he ponders the appeal of the ocean. Urbina himself is generally in the middle of the action. At several points, he finds himself on the deck of an Indonesian anti-poaching ship as it faces off with a heavily armed Vietnamese patrol, on a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society boat in pursuit of a ship that had been poaching Patagonian toothfish (politely branded in retailers as Chilean sea bass), and caught in the middle of a simmering political conflict more than fishing rights in Somalia that threatens to boil more than into a coup. The writing is simple but clever—Urbina packs sentences with a lot of details, but they never ever appear bloated. Atmospheric moments, like when Urbina describes the “faint gurgling” of seawater about the legs of an abandoned offshore platform, are uncommon but eerie and lovely when they do seem.

Urbina’s reporting is clearly driven by a sense of duty to the folks he meets, and the book delivers a glimpse into his connection with his subjects that is not visible in his newspaper articles. It is not that he’s out to modify every life he encounters—that would certainly be futile—but that he does not want these stories to go untold. He tries, for instance, to untangle the internet that traps so numerous of his subjects into involuntary servitude at sea. For a handful of quick pages, he visits a Thai karaoke bar that doubles as a “a staging ground in the human-trafficking pipeline.” There, a numerous-tentacled method of abuse stretches among sea and shore: young girls are pressed into prostitution, then employed as a lure for boys from rural Myanmar and Cambodia—also teenagers—who will be trafficked into sea slavery. “Of all the evil factors I saw whilst reporting… the karaoke bars have been probably the most sinister,” he writes. In the moment, he’s paralyzed and openly uncomfortable with his journalistic eliminate.

His reporting has had some achievement bringing adjustments to this method. In the previous decade, pressured by the investigations of Urbina and other people, the Thai government cracked down on illegal fishing and sea slavery—which generally go hand in hand. But it becomes evident that fixing the fishing business is like squeezing a balloon: place stress on a single spot, and it bulges elsewhere. Some of the worst Thai actors switched their registrations to Djibouti, which is not topic to such close media scrutiny and has turned an apparent blind eye to the complications. When Urbina visits Somalia to observe what seemed a effective work to tamp down piracy, he’s rather forced out of the nation with threats of assassination. The regional government has tacitly authorized of and profited from poaching by these similar Thai-owned, Djibouti-registered ships at the expense of regional fishermen, and Urbina’s presence becomes a threat.

These failures can make the book really feel Sisyphean. No matter how relentlessly Urbina chases a scofflaw ship or an abusive captain, the sea can swallow them up. In a moment when Brazilian fascists are burning the Amazon and almost two-thirds of Americans are living in a state of anxiousness as we anticipate a worsening climate crisis, exactly where are we supposed to place this news of the gross realities of the ocean? Urbina does not invest substantially time linking American customers and the abuses he chronicles, but the connection is apparent. The ships that pack cargo across the ocean also push stowaways overboard. The shrimp that goes into cat meals could properly have been caught by slaves. Urbina does not have an answer for how to prevent complicity in this method, but a single issue is particular: abuses will preserve taking place as lengthy as no a single is watching.

Do not Miss: A further Terrific Study About a Small-Explored Frontier

Jill Heinerth’s profession as a specialist cave diver, which she recounts in her memoir Into the Planet ($30, Ecco), started with a pair of burglaries. In the mid-eighties, on her initially evening attending university and living in a seedy corner of Toronto, a man with “red-rimmed and crazed” eyes broke into her student apartment and pushed his way via her bedroom door prior to she slashed him with an X-Acto blade. A handful of months later, whilst Heinerth was house on break, she chased a distinct would-be robber away with a handful of kitchen knives. The initially encounter leaves her shaken, but the second tends to make her understand that she’s braver than she believed. The burglaries give her the courage to shed an “ill-fitting life” as a graphic designer in favor of a single spent exploring some of the deepest, most unsafe water-filled caves on earth.

The rest of the book traces Heinerth’s path into complete-time cave diving, from days spent beach bumming in the Caribbean to her early dives amid north Florida limestone to the loss of pal just after pal deep below the surface. Along the way, she wrestles with inquiries of belonging and self-confidence in a male-dominated sport. The writing can be a tiny more than-the-top—the line “This is amazing!” tends to make repeated appearances—but the worlds Heinerth conjures up are captivating: underground bivouacs, days-lengthy journeys inside mountains, a “multicolored shag carpet” of isopods and sponges and crabs living beneath an Antarctic iceberg. Regardless of the tragedies she’s witnessed, it is simple to realize why she keeps going back into the depths.

Lead Photo: Fabio Nascimento/The Outlaw Ocean


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