Urbina's work of reportage brings into view the disturbing reality of a floating world that connects us all, a place where anyone can do anything because no one is watching. Drawing on five years of perilous and intrepid reporting, Ian Urbina introduces readers to the unscrupulous inhabitants of this hidden world.
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—not to mention the budget, which must have been enormous. The result is not just a fascinating read, but a truly important document. It is also a master class in journalism. As he enters these worlds, Urbina provides glimpses into his methods, his fears and misconceptions. He describes how, even at home, he keeps a backpack ready to leave at a moment’s notice; he recounts failed attempts to reach ships, bribes and begging and desperate solutions ... This kind of writing—a catalog of the reporter’s process—can veer into self-indulgence, but for Urbina it’s another tool by which he invites readers into communities, demonstrating how isolated they are, how vulnerable and suspicious, and how their governance is designed to hold no one truly accountable. For all it exposes, The Outlaw Ocean doesn’t offer the comfort of a call to action. No buy-this-instead-of-that seafood guides; no illusion of consumer choices as an answer. Instead, we are left with the discomfort of complicity. There is no clear solution to the ocean’s problems because our entire world—our economic system, our geography—is the cause.
On the surface, 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 ... Urbina, who has won both a Pulitzer and a George Polk Award, decided to focus on this often ignored world — and what he found ranges from horrible to shocking and from unfair to unbelievable ... There are two elements that make The Outlaw Ocean an magnificent read. The first is Urbina's knack for framing and structure ... The second element is Urbina's writing. His style is concise and straightforward and he has the ability to summarize while also offering a lot of information and contextualizing his discoveries in a way that make readers see the differences between life and crime on land and life and crime on the water ... The Outlaw Ocean is not an easy read, and that's a good thing ... The Outlaw Ocean is an engrossing and immersive book that shows the ocean is the last frontier: a vast place where the laws don't apply ... a testament to [Urbina's] reporting skills and proof that outstanding writing is still one of the best tools we have to get to know the world we live in.
... a book that leaves behind the unnerving feeling that we’re becalmed and can move in no positive direction: The Outlaw Ocean brings the reader up close to an overwhelming truth, but the magnitude of the revelation is paralyzing ... 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, is an impressive feat of reporting ... While all nonfiction books presumably exist to tell readers something they didn’t already know, The Outlaw Ocean uses our lack of knowledge to bolster his argument: If we don’t know much about sea slavery or the battles between environmentalists and the fishing industry, it’s because it’s hard for us landlubbers to know what happens so far from shore ... Urbina is so successful at communicating the scale of the ocean, and the cruelty and neglect above and below its waters, that reading his book sometimes feels like gasping for a breath of air before slipping under the waves again ... 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.