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Friday, October 12, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Outlaw Sea



It is hard for me to imagine a scene more chaotic than a full-scale ship breaking operation. Most people never even think about what happens to old ships that have outlasted their utility. In our part of the world, the various environmental agencies would never allow a ship full of fuel, oil, and various other chemicals to be intentionally run aground and drained while a myriad of workers take blowtorches to the hull. But that's exactly what happens every day in places like India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

The nightmare of third world ship breaking is just one aspect of William Langewiesche's excellent book, The Outlaw Sea. He makes the point that the oceans are so vast that it is impossible to police them. He points out that the majority of the world's cargo is transported by shipping companies that only own one or two ships and who, in the interest of capitalism, are willing color outside the lines when necessary.

The book discusses modern day piracy in detail. Most people don't realize just how prevalent it is. But every week the International Chamber of Commerce publishes the Weekly Piracy Report. You can find it HERE. These are not guys in busted old ships wearing eye patches. They are technologically sophisticated, well armed and equipped, and highly aggressive.

He also illustrates the duplicity involved in certifying a commercial ship safe for service. He goes into gut-wrenching detail on the tragic sinking of the ferry Estonia in 1994, costing 852 passengers their lives. He also shows how international shipping is quickly becoming the preferred method of transportation for terrorist groups.

The book is a real page-turner that is guaranteed to open your eyes to a lot we take for granted. I couldn't put it down. I was absolutely fascinated with how easily a ship can change it's registry to a flag of convenience and circumvent a bevy of international laws.
The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime reads more like a spy novel than an expose on maritime lawlessness. I consider it required reading for anyone interested in long-distance cruising!

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