The Outlaw Ocean
A New York Times best seller 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.
Available in 14 countries
Praise for The Outlaw Ocean
The Hollywood Reporter
Pulitzer Prize winner Urbina, who earned notice for a 2019 book titled The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier based on an investigative series he penned for The New York Times, will receive the Christopher Dickey award [for Journalistic Excellence].
Pamela PaulEditor of The New York Times Book Review
I'm just going to say flat out is one of the best narrative, non-fiction books by a journalist I've ever read…Here’s what makes this book so good.. [It’s] the detail of this book...Urbina (also) very deftly interweaves behind the scenes how he did this. He doesn't overly rely on the first person narrative. It doesn't feel like an egotistical book… The book feels very journalistically responsible. There's no exaggeration. If anything, it is very low-key and yet, for a non-fiction book, I found it to be one of the most page-turnery books I have read in a long time. I stayed up late reading, I woke up early to read. I was reading in the middle of the night, so there you have it - The Outlaw Ocean.
Folha de São Paulo
As with sea species, maritime workers are also threatened. The book reports the journeys of officials who work in conditions close to slavery.
The Pulitzer Prize winner reveals how the sea is a no man's land, where crime and impunity go hand in hand, culminating in humanitarian and environmental tragedies.
Two thirds of the world is covered in ocean. We don’t think about some of the things that go on outside of the reach of the law and some of the regulations that exist. There’s a lot of bad things but there’s a lot of possibilities, especially as we think about issues like the climate, issues like the future of what it is to work. Anyway, really interesting book.
Anika Entre Libros
Thanks to five years of journalistic research, covering hundreds of nautical miles in the most diverse and sometimes dangerous situations, Urbina shows with rigor and brilliance what happens in our oceans and seas.
It is a book that describes the activities of the giant Japanese whalers, authentic floating slaughterhouses qualified as 'scientific' ships by the Japanese authorities and destined to introduce whales in cans, as well as the tricks of merchant ships and luxury cruise ships to pollute the sea with their waste. And all this, more often than not, without any consequences.
The book is pure investigative journalism, hence its direct, raw narrative, without subterfuge or unnecessary detours. (...) But the most important and interesting thing in this book is what it tells, which is none other than the most absolute impunity that exists in the seas of this planet in which companies of different nature act without ethics or scruples in favor of economic benefit.
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.
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.
One of the best Ocean books of all time.
The New York Times Book Review
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 Washington Post
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.
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.
NPR Book Review
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.
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.
Rowan Jacobson for Outside Magazine
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.
Journal of Modern Slavery
...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.
[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.
Captain Paul Watson in Book Authority
Hope some of the world's politicians will read it and understand just how precarious biodiversity is.
'The Outlaw Ocean' opens readers' eyes to a foreign world... [it] also describes positive destinies, people and organizations that fight for the protection of the seas [that often] seem to be lost in the midst of illegal activities for which there are usually no witnesses...the book succeeds in [drawing] attention to an important issue.
Corby KummerSenior Editor at The Atlantic
Hard to imagine a more important piece being published.
A monumental investigative work…[that] reveals, through a journey along twelve thousand nautical miles, a complex and pervasive network of exploitation and crime, essential to our global economy.
Natural History Book Service
The sheer visceral intensity of Urbina’s reporting was such that it brought me close to tears on several occasions, which happens rarely…The reporting in this book is top-notch, and I was not surprised to read that the original article series received seven major awards…*The Outlaw Ocean* is an exceptional reportage that encompasses almost every conceivable form of misconduct playing out on the high seas. I found the book impossible to put down. Shocking, urgent, and gut-wrenching in places, it left a deep and lasting impression on me.
Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography
If you’re interested in oceans, or environmental history, or international law, or even a good maritime adventure, then you’ve probably already seen the reviews of Ian Urbina’s *The Outlaw Ocean*. The praises piled upon it are sky high, and they’re well-deserved...So, to the reader: To get beneath the jargon of global environmental governance and to its concrete realities, read *The Outlaw Ocean*. Take in its stories...The seeds for a radical investigation of the global ocean are scattered throughout the book.
War on the Rocks
We owe a debt to the author, who went to some of the most unfriendly and hostile places in the world at significant risk — as great reporters do. His work is a testimony to the trade of real journalism, not the Washington-centric major cable media channels competing for the loudest voice regnant in today’s political arena...Urbina’s reporting in the book is also refreshingly literary...He has produced an important work that will be the standard for understanding the outlaw ocean.
Alternately fascinating and wildly depressing examination of the world’s ocean…Urbina’s reports from *The Outlaw Ocean* should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned with where we’re headed from an environmental standpoint, as well as international matters such as human trafficking, human rights violations and immigration.
Chuck PezeshkiWashington State University
The book is amazing insofar as the author, in writing it, actually survived to write it. There are so many opportunities offered up for assassination during witnessing that Urbina talks about, I can’t even imagine how he survived...The crisis we are having is fundamentally one of memetics – the old models of how we understand things simply are failing right and left. And change in the physical world will only happen once we change first our minds.
William BranghamCorrespondent for PBS Newshour
The best series I’ve read in years.
The journalist, by the breadth of his investigations, ends up the most fundamental political questions without theorizing about them not supposing that’s all questions are even answerable. But in this tremendous and fascinating book he puts forward the questions that should be on everyone’s mind.
Sierra Club Magazine
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.
The New Yorker
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.
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.
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.
Rick BerkeEditor of Politico
Fascinating. Eye-opening. A tour de force.
Joe SextonSenior Editor at Pro Publica
One of the most extraordinary investigative series.
The scope of reporting in The Outlaw Ocean is remarkable. Urbina covers a wide swath of oceangoing banditry and mayhem, and delivers his findings in clear, transparent prose that brings this sordid activity to life.
…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.
Stanford Center for Oceans Solutions
The dimensions of lawlessness at sea are brought vividly to life in Ian Urbina's powerful new book...Urbina illuminates the consequences of lawlessness...but often the consequences are devastating.
The Times of London
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.
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.
Long Beach Post
Fascinating and frightening...Many of us who confine our journeys to dry land and the occasional offshore excursion might have always expected that it’s a jungle out there in the ocean. It’s worse than you imagined.
The Outlaw Ocean is a great fresco of what happens every day in the open sea between piracy and smuggling, unpunished murders and enslaved crews aboard dilapidated fishing boats.
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.
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.
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.
The Crime Novel Reader
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.
Urbina’s reporting has started conversations in the corridors of power on addressing the legal loopholes and lack of enforcement that allow these crimes to happen. It is emblematic of the crucial role that journalism can play in exposing inequalities, atrocities and the often-silenced truths of the high seas.
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.
The Wall Street Journal
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.
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.
Bob FrumpAuthor and journalist
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.
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.
North American Maritime Ministry Association
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.’
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.
Bill McKibbenAuthor of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
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.
Susan CaseyBest-selling author of The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean
*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.
John KerryFormer Secretary of State and founder of the Our Ocean Conference
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.
Carl SafinaAuthor of Beyond Words and Song for the Blue Ocean
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.
Sam Walkerformer deputy enterprise editor of The Wall Street Journal and author of The Captain Class
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.
Shibhani MahtaniMyanmar reporter for The Wall Street Journal
By far some of the best reporting I’ve read in a long time.
Richard DeitschWriter for Sports Illustrated
One of the best things I’ve read...
What the best journalism is all about.
Jonathan ChaitWriter for New York Magazine
An incredible report.
Claudia EllerEditor of Variety
A fascinating story!
Oliver Franklin-WallisContributing editor at Wired
Rob GregoryPresident of Newsweek Daily Beast
Searing, investigative work.
Brad WienersDeputy Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek
Made me so envious.
Chris DixonEditor of The Scuttlefish
It's this kind of hard-assed reporting that can ultimately change the world for the better.
This is just incredible investigative work.
Karen TumultyNational Correspondent for the Washington Post
You simply must read this.
Miles MoffeitInvestigative Reporter for The Dallas Morning News
Eleanor CliftReporter for The Daily Beast
Excellent piece of reporting.