"These chapters are vibrant as individual stories, but as a collection they’re transcendent, rendering a complex portrait of an unseen and disturbing world. Urbina pursues a depth of reportage that’s rare because of the guts and diligence it requires...The result is not just a fascinating read, but a truly important document...a master class in journalism."
— The New York Times Book Review
“That Urbina has been able to pluck these people out of the vast blue expanse that surrounds them and locate them, both on the map and in our minds, at least for a moment, is an impressive feat of reporting…A lesser writer might have been daunted by the technicalities. But Urbina deftly reveals complicated ideas through his stories, whether he’s exploring how lacunas in Thai labor law leave sea slaves vulnerable or depicting firsthand how flags of convenience meant to track ships can be used to make them disappear."
— The Washington Post
“The Outlaw Ocean is an outstanding example of investigative journalism, illuminating some of the darkest corners of a world we often don't think about…. what he found ranges from horrible to shocking and from unfair to unbelievable….a magnificent read….proof that outstanding writing is still one of the best tools we have to get to know the world we live in.”
— NPR Book Review
"[The Outlaw Ocean is]...an outstanding investigation of a global criminal culture on the high seas … Little wonder the stories he tells have not been told before … With the world’s seafood stocks in crisis, Urbina lifts the thick veil on a global criminal culture, at just the moment when the damage inflicted on the oceans is becoming terminal."
— The Guardian
“The Outlaw Ocean is an alarming and powerful investigation into the myriad environmental and humanitarian crises taking place across the world’s oceans…By chronicling the many awful things we are doing on and to the ocean, Urbina’s book only makes a reader want to save it more.”
– Sierra Club Magazine
“The disturbing stories of ‘global oceanic pillage’ compiled in this record of life on the high seas demonstrate the often dire results of the failure to police international waters. The ocean’s vastness compounds the problem, presenting opportunities for both exploitative commercial interests and idealistic vigilantes.”
— The New Yorker
“Urbina engagingly chronicles his travels from one trouble spot to another ... Urbina’s book ranks alongside those by Mark Bowden and Sebastian Junger, fraught with peril and laced with beer, the smell of sea air, and constant bouts of gaming an inept system. A swift-moving, often surprising account of the dangers that face sailors and nations alike on the lawless tide.”
— Kirkus Review
“A cinematic voyage…Urbina’s ice-breaking attempts are both valiant and charming...There is no lack of danger in Urbina’s travels; impressively, he never shies away from it...This drama is riveting, but so is the endemic abuse that Urbina finds.”
“…A monumental piece of work that describes an industry were the normal rules of commerce and law rarely apply...heart-rending tales of exploitation...there are ‘lines of enquiry’ for sustainable investors to open up, to try to address the problem that Urbina writes about so eloquently in The Outlaw Ocean.”
— Responsible Investor
“The result of all that reporting, ‘The Outlaw Ocean,’ is gripping and shocking by turns…He encounters a multitude of cockroaches, gets infested by bedbugs, and is woken by rats scuttling up his leg…More of the night sky has been mapped than the oceans’ depths; much still remains unknown. This book will make you look at them again and see them anew.”
— The Times of London
“In The Outlaw Ocean, Urbina focuses that eye on understanding his characters and their context to show why these crimes get committed and why the culprits rarely get prosecuted. Urbina goes further than most to do this. He shows you a problem from the front lines, by talking to the people there.”
“Often placing himself in harm’s way, Mr. Urbina for five years gained access to many ships and boats that operated way out to sea off foreign shores…’The Outlaw Ocean’ is an interesting and illuminating story about crime on the seas around the world.”
— Washington Times
"Urbina has written an astonishing book about a world most of us don't even know exists. These are dispatches from the lawless ocean — of traffickers, slaves, heroes, gangsters, crooks, and scoundrels — which will amaze, enthrall and appall you."
— Oliver Bullough
"A dauntless reporter, he penetrates the bilges of terrible Thai fishing boats with enslaved crews of Cambodian youths, and risks his life aboard [an] Indonesian patrol craft...Painstaking in the pursuit and establishment of fact…Seafarers as slaves is the main story, but Urbina is also to be commended for revealing illegal waste-dumping by cruise ships and the conditions of maritime mercenaries on floating armouries who wait months for work guarding container ships.”
"I quickly found myself engrossed, for the author reveals stories of shocking cruelty and criminality...It is not every day that one comes across a book that shocks and changes one’s perception of the world. This is such a book. Deeply moving and concerning, this is a powerful and important exposé."
— The Crime Novel Reader
“With precision, drama, and intimacy, Urbina recounts his role in a dangerous at-sea standoff between Indonesian and Vietnamese authorities, a frightening escape from Somalia, and many other harrowing situations…His biggest fear is that his risky quest may do harm to people rather than good, but there is no doubt that the bravely gleaned and galvanizing facts about maritime savagery and brewing catastrophes, which he so vividly and cogently presents, coalesce into an exposé of immense magnitude and consequence.”
“What we learn from Urbina’s journeys is nothing less than the deepest aspects of humanity itself. Dropped into a world without terra firma’s systems and foibles, our darkest impulses emerge. But our most noble intentions—to save, to protect, to establish fair rule of law—appear as well. Neither has any chance against the power of the outlaw ocean… In the end, all the ink, blood, sweat and tears are mere drops in the highest seas.”
— Paste Magazine
“The most valuable contribution of ‘The Outlaw Ocean’ may be to the literature, unfortunately quite extensive by now, of pessimism about human nature…in aggregate his stories reveal that something like a Hobbesian state of nature still exists and is available to anyone willing to float a few dozen miles offshore.”
—The Wall Street Journal
"Poaching, pillaging, slavery, executions : oceans are the new Far West. American investigative journalist Ian Urbina discloses this ultra violent and lawless world in a shocking investigation which may very well rock the boat.”
“The preface to ‘The Outlaw Ocean’ contains more adventure and insights than many whole books on the maritime world…You should read this book. It is a formidable work and bound to frame our view of the maritime world for decades.”
— Bob Frump, author and journalist
"Journalist Ian Urbina’s daring new book The Outlaw Ocean uncovers a dark world of exploitation on the high seas — a world that exists out of the public eye and beyond the rule of law...The scope of Urbina’s reporting has been astounding."
“For those involved in maritime ministry among seafarers and fishers, Urbina’s book is important for two reasons: first, it gives depth and breadth to the issues that we may have seen only one side of in our local settings. Hearing more stories and more detail about the challenges that are faced by seafarers and fishers around the world should redouble our efforts to be at their service. Second, it should help us break the grip of the ‘tragedy of the commons.’”
— North American Maritime Ministry Association
“Urbina’s reporting is clearly driven by a sense of responsibility to the people he meets, and the book offers a glimpse into his relationship with his subjects that isn’t visible in his newspaper articles. It’s not that he’s out to change each life he encounters—that would obviously be futile—but that he doesn’t want these stories to go untold.”
— Outside Magazine
“Our planet is 70% ocean and yet to watch the TV or read the papers you'd have little idea humans ever ventured offshore. Thanks to Ian Urbina for beginning to close the reporting gap, and for showing the high drama to be found on the high seas.”
— Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
“The Outlaw Ocean is a riveting, terrifying, thrilling story of a netherworld that few people know about, and fewer will ever see. As Ian Urbina ventures into the darkest folds of the high seas, his courage—and his prose—are breathtaking. The soul of this book is as wild as the ocean itself.”
— Susan Casey, best-selling author of The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean
“Not just a stunning read, this book is a gripping chronicle of the watery wild west and it shows us—frankly unlike anything I've read before—how global indifference can trap innocent people in endless cycles of exploitation, how the vast ocean has become a danger zone, and ultimately how we all pay a price for this mayhem and mistreatment."
— John Kerry, former Secretary of State and founder of the Our Ocean Conference
“Imagine a fantasy movie in which an explorer from Earth arrives on the surface of a living planet, to discover a lawless place where brutality is the only order and greed and fear the only motivators. Welcome to The Outlaw Ocean. In this utterly groundbreaking, often disturbing book, Ian Urbina has put his life on the line to lay bare the stunning inhumanity that reigns unchecked over two-thirds of Earth’s surface. This constantly astonishing book is seasoned with rare heroes—the author himself among them—who at great risk have weaponized their lifelong quest to shine righteous light and apply justice to the cruel anarchy that reigns over the majority of the planet.”
—Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words and Song for the Blue Ocean
“In The Outlaw Ocean, Ian Urbina offers a gripping series of portraits of scofflaws, renegades, con men, vigilantes, and activists whose combat on the open seas has profound effects on our everyday lives and the world we inhabit. It's a wild adventure story and terrifying cautionary tale that should not be missed."
— Sam Walker, former deputy enterprise editor of The Wall Street Journal and author of The Captain Class
“One of the most extraordinary investigative series."
— Joe Sexton, Senior Editor at Pro Publica
“By far some of the best reporting I’ve read in a long time.”
— Shibhani Mahtani, Myanmar reporter for The Wall Street Journal
“Fascinating. Eye-opening. A tour de force.”
— Rick Berke, Editor of Politico
“One of the best things I’ve read...”
— Richard Deitsch, Writer for Sports Illustrated
“What the best journalism is all about.”
— Ted Botha, Author
“Hard to imagine a more important piece being published.”
— Corby Kummer, Senior Editor at The Atlantic
“An incredible report.”
— Jonathan Chait, Writer for New York Magazine
“A fascinating story!”
— Claudia Eller, Editor of Variety
— Oliver Franklin-Wallis, Contributing editor at Wired
“Searing, investigative work.”
— Rob Gregory, President of Newsweek Daily Beast
“Made me so envious.”
— Brad Wieners, Deputy Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek
"It's this kind of hard-assed reporting that can ultimately change the world for the better."
— Chris Dixon, Editor of The Scuttlefish
“This is just incredible investigative work.”
— Naomi Klein, Author
“You simply must read this.”
— Karen Tumulty, National Correspondent for the Washington Post
“The best series I’ve read in years.”
— William Brangham, Correspondent for PBS Newshour
— Miles Moffeit, Investigative Reporter for The Dallas Morning News
“Excellent piece of reporting.”
— Eleanor Clift, Reporter for The Daily Beast