The Outlaw Ocean Project


Journeys across the last untamed frontier.
A best selling work by Ian Urbina.

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 under no clear international authority, these immense regions of treacherous water play host to rampant criminality and exploitation.

Traffickers and smugglers, pirates and mercenaries, wreck thieves and repo men, vigilante conservationists and elusive poachers, seabound abortion providers, clandestine oil-dumpers, shackled slaves and cast-adrift stowaways — drawing on five years of perilous and intrepid reporting, often hundreds of miles from shore, Ian Urbina introduces us to the inhabitants of this hidden world. Through their stories of astonishing courage and brutality, survival and tragedy, he uncovers a globe-spanning network of crime and exploitation that emanates from the fishing, oil and shipping industries, and on which the world’s economies rely. 

Both a gripping adventure story and a stunning exposé, this unique work of reportage brings fully into view for the first time the disturbing reality of a floating world that connects us all, a place where anyone can do anything because no one is watching.

Praise for The Outlaw Ocean

You have to read it. You will never see a hake with the same eyes or a sunset with the same feeling again. Through his brutal stories, Ian Urbina unravels a dark global web of crime and exploitation emanating from the fishing, oil and shipping industries on which the world's economies depend.

20 Minutos

In his most recent book, 'The Outlaw Ocean,' New York Times reporter, Ian Urbina..delves into the corruption and physical and psychological abuse..of the men and women enslaved by illegal fishing...[This] monumental investigative journalism..evokes a sensation of a cinematographic journey...[It's] an extraordinary book.

Foro Javeriano

One of the best Ocean books of all time.

Book Authority

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

For anyone who is serious about the ocean, environmental conservation, social justice, equity and equality on the high seas, *The Outlaw Ocean* is a must read...simultaneously so gripping we couldn’t put it down and incredibly difficult to read...But sharing these stories is the key to inspiring action for a better world...Despite Urbina’s clear and concise framing of these myriad issues facing our high seas, readers will find it challenging to not empathize with so many of the real people featured in these stories, and to not feel overwhelmed by the darkness shrouding the high seas. But sharing these stories is the key to inspiring action for a better world.

Ocean Wise

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

Measured by sheer area, Urbina may have the biggest beat of any reporter on Earth….Urbina uncovers corruption, physical abuse, and literal slavery in the global fishing and shipping chains. He's a dogged investigator, and it's fascinating to watch him peel back the story…*The Outlaw Ocean* is a must-read for anyone interested in lawless zones, ocean issues, or just compelling investigative journalism.


I swore off canned tuna last year, after reading The Outlaw Ocean, Ian Urbina’s wrenching account of human-rights abuses in the global fishing industry...He shipped out on roach-infested, barely seaworthy trawlers, chased pirates and poachers, got caught in border wars, and uncovered a grainy cell-phone video of casual assassinations at sea...By the time I finished The Outlaw Ocean, I couldn’t open a can of tuna without imagining a trickle of human blood oozing out...Swordfish, snapper, mahi mahi, mackerel, sardines, squid, and anchovies are all tainted by slavery...rife with human suffering.

Rowan Jacobson for Outside Magazine

...a particularly intrepid reporter who spent many years literally at sea to track stories of what happens where there are no laws....The book is a compelling overview of everything from cruise ships’ environmental crimes (dumping toxic waste) to the activist Women on Waves ship, providing abortions to women in countries where the procedure is illegal... From its introductory pages, the book forces the reader to see these invisible workers.

Journal of Modern Slavery

[The Outlaw Ocean is] 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

Hope some of the world's politicians will read it and understand just how precarious biodiversity is.

Captain Paul Watson in Book Authority

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Reporting of this type is rare, expensive and urgently needed. The Outlaw Ocean Project is a non-profit organization solely dedicated to publishing more of these stories. Please consider supporting the work by donating to the non-profit or subscribing to our newsletter on Substack.

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