The Outlaw Ocean, by Ian Urbina

"The Outlaw Ocean," by Ian Urbina, (Alfred A. Knopf: New York), $30.00 hardback.

Most Americans have never experienced a lawless place. Even though we might find ourselves in a dangerous situation, we can expect a response from law enforcement. We know they are a simple 911 call away. Not so the oceans of the world.

Ian Urbina, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times, shows in this harrowing, magnificent work that our oceans are dangerous beyond measure. This is because outside the 12-mile limit national oceanic boundaries, there is almost no law. And even where there is law, there is no one to enforce it.

You will be surprised to learn who the major violators are. We know about pirates, but where do the pirates mainly come from? Would you be surprised to learn that the major sea industries such as fishing, oil and shipping are the major culprits?

Urbina takes us on a horror voyage across oceans. We meet those who extract wealth from them. We discover many ships are manned by trafficked people. They are lured aboard, then kept as literal prisoners. Some nations have found that such men, for they are mostly men, are beaten, lashed, raped and kept under horrendous conditions. And they are provided by middlemen, the easier for major companies to claim ignorance of their origins. Ships, yes, even cruise ships, dump vast amounts of raw sewage, outside of national 12-mile limits. It is cheaper, and no one checks.

Ships also dump vast amounts of perfectly good fish if they come across schools of more expensive fish. And oil. Excess fuel is left in the wake of ships in tonnages that would challenge oil leaks ... which are seldom punished. And sinking vessels, or abandoned oil derricks are left to the seas. They in turn are believed to be attractive for future natural coral settings. Not true in most cases, as pollutants are also attracted, and the coral might itself be contaminated.

It goes on. Piracy comes often where we least expect it. No justification here, simply economics. We learn who the pirates are and what measures are taken against them. We learn of sea slavery, what measures are available to nations, companies and private enterprising sea mercenaries. Ships that don't pay debts become literal millstones to investors, who seek to retrieve them from debt holders by stealing them from harbors.

And the harbors themselves are holding places for racketeers who sell registrations on the cheap. Such registrations are sold to those who don't particularly care about ensuring safety measures are in place to receive this license.

The list truly goes on and on. We discover that behind almost every apparent scandal, major corporations hide their business interests. All to make a dishonest buck, and save money. Lives, the very safety of our ocean, and the future of our climate is at stake. Urbina has done a wonderful job ringing the warning bell. What will we do?

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