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The Outlaw Ocean

Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier
Written by: Ian Urbina
Narrated by: Jason Culp, Ian Urbina
Length: 17 hrs and 50 mins
4.8 out of 5 stars (13 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"A riveting, terrifying, thrilling story of a netherworld that few people know about, and fewer will ever see.... 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)

An adrenaline-fueled tour of a vast, lawless and rampantly criminal world that few have ever seen: the high seas.

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.

©2019 Ian Urbina (P)2019 Random House Audio

What the critics say

“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)

“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?)

“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 effect 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

“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) 

What listeners say about The Outlaw Ocean

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Very well written, extremely important book

Everyone should hear these true stories about the abuse and price payed by the poor and the sea life for our indiscriminately consumption of sea products.

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Captivating till the end!

I've never read any reporting/journalism work before and I can't believe what I've been missing out on. I believe everyone should listen to the stories and facts this book contains. I also can't believe the things that people have been able to get away with because of my ignorant consumer practices. The only thing that can change our world is our ability to educate ourselves about these things. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of these kinds of books.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Worldoceans
  • 2019-12-09

Subject interesting, but some facts not true

Being a long distance sailor and marine biologist, I started out totally engrossed by the interesting subject matter. But I started to lose faith in the reporting when several completely wrong "facts" were presented. It made me question the validity of all other facts. First the author describes the hauling in of Antarctic Cod (Dissotichus mawsoni) and describing their eyes bulging out of their sockets from the release of pressure. This is incorrect, they do not have a swim bladder and their eyes do not bulge out. I have hauled in mawsoni from over 1000' and they are alive, in great shape, and can even be kept in an aquarium for research. Second he describes how it would be deadly to fall over the side in Antarctica because the water is -80F. Impossible and rediculous - sea water can only go as low as 28F, after which it freezes. Thirdly - later on in the book when describing the dutch abortion ship, which he says is a 36' long sailboat with a 29hp diesel engine. He said it was cruising at 10 knots, which is impossible unless it was surfing down a wave, which is not "cruising". A sailboat cannot exceed it's hull speed which is 1.34 X the square root of the length of the waterline (about 32' for a 36' sailboat). For a 36' sailboat that would equate to about 7.6 kts in flat calm seas with no headwind and a motor powerful enough to reach hull speed (unlikely with a 29hp). Since he describes 8' waves pounding the bow, it is unlikely that they could even make 5 kts, let alone 10kts. None of these facts are huge, but when there are mistakes like this I have to take the entire book with a grain of salt, wondering how much other exaggeration there was. Having said all that - this is well worth a read - but don't rely on every fact being correct.

23 people found this helpful

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  • Mary
  • 2019-09-14

Disappointed

The story is very interesting and thought provoking but as an audiobook I could never get through it. The reader is montone and dry. I am disappointed that I do see an option to return this book after only listening to one chapter.

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  • Justin
  • 2019-08-31

Highly recommended!

Both the writing and narration are excellent. I can honestly say that the author conducted some truly intrepid and impressive reporting for this book. The human right abuses that he chronicles in this book are both shocking and underreported. A quite engaging listen. Highly recommended.

3 people found this helpful

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  • C. W. N.
  • 2019-08-29

A Real Eye-Opener & Necessary Read

Ian Urbina taks the reader on a rollercoaster ride, with mind-blowing accounts of life and business at sea, just beyond the reach of the just, or at least where the good guy's hands are tied behind their backs. An amazing depiction of courageous people facing the most abusive & dishonest companies & governments on the planet. This is a must-read.

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  • Mike
  • 2019-10-21

Individual short stories

I almost claimed plagiarism throughout the first half of the 4th-chapter, thinking I had read a book written about the same exact story. Did some digging, only to discover I had previously read Ian Urbina's prose unknowingly in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/12/ship-of-horrors-deep-sea-fishing-oyang-70-new-zealand I enjoyed the format of several short stories (essays, as the author claims) built around a singular theme in the Outlaw Ocean. Well-done.

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  • T. Adams
  • 2020-09-07

Must Read for Environmental Conservation

Although Urbina writes on all aspects of the gray lines in maritime law, the stories and research he provides on the efforts and discrepancies regarding oceanic environmental conservation was insightful and shocking. I truly have felt moved to help in the efforts to protect our oceans and I appreciate all the hard work Urbina did to write about it all.

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  • aaron
  • 2020-08-16

Outstanding Book on Ocean Stuff

This book covers everything from pirates to illegal fishing. The storytelling is good, not great, but since there are so few books that cover the topics covered here, the storytelling is elevated to something close to Hemingway. It's a real shame that there aren't more journalists doing this type of reporting, so Urbina definitely deserves praise for being one of the few to venture into these inherently dangerous worlds. There are thousands of war reporters out there, and maybe only five(!!) that do any sort of worthwhile reporting on Ocean Lawlessness. That's just ridiculous. I hope Urbina continues reporting on Ocean Stuff.

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  • Ana
  • 2020-05-04

Eye opening

Have listened to this book on an off for the last 4 months. Very interesting topics and didn't feel lost despite the lack of knowledge in the topic and length of the book. Makes you think twice about how we view the ocean. Highly recommend taking the time to read this book.

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  • Admiralu
  • 2020-01-12

The Wild West on the World’s Oceans

This was an extensive account of practices that occur on the world’s oceans. Even the author mentions that practices he thought were outlawed or banned still exist today. Piracy, thievery, slavery, extortion, blackmail and more regularly occur. Don’t think this is just an environmental expose, though it is covered in several chapters. The human element is far more prolific. Owners and operators of vessels strand men at sea for months at a time refusing to pay them their wages, give them food or water or contact with their families; men sold into slavery on fishing boats, stowaways killed and thrown overboard, Vigilantes attacking boats, manning agencies who charge recruits for work leaving them in debt before they work and holding them hostage without pay, its all here. An eye opening and sad account of what happens to them and the health of the ocean. A book devoted to parts that give insight to the whole and much of this still goes on. The author spent four years traveling and the events still haunt him. They will haunt you as well. I read this book using immersion reading while listening to the audiobook. Narrator Jason Culp’s reading was rote. A different narrator would’ve been better able to bring a more emotional element to the reading.

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  • BWil
  • 2019-10-29

Sad story

Really enjoyed the book as it opened my eyes to what's going on in our oceans and it makes me think twice about some of the fish I buy.