KINGSTON, R.I., — September 9, 2020 — In 2015, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Ian Urbina produced a series about lawlessness at sea in The New York Times called “The Outlaw Ocean.” Last year, Urbina’s gripping, first-hand accounts of illegal overfishing, arms trafficking at sea, human slavery, gun running, intentional dumping, murdering stowaways, thieving of ships and other topics were collected and expanded upon in his bestselling book of the same name.
On Thursday, September 17 at noon, Urbina will share many of his stories as the featured lecturer in this year’s Charles and Marie Fish Lecture, hosted by the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. The online lecture is free and open to the public.
While a graduate student, Urbina’s first opportunity to spend time on the open ocean fell through and he instead spent days on a research ship that never left port in Singapore. “Spending long days on the dock, I was exposed to the diaspora tribe of seafarers and was struck by how distinct they were,” said Urbina. “Truth be told, once I was exposed to the place and the people, I was hooked.”
In his reporting over a decade later for The New York Times series and in his book, Urbina explored and chronicled a disparate array of characters: the 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.
The series has now evolved into The Outlaw Ocean Project, where Urbina continues his reporting on the high seas and has expanded into a novel combination of music and journalism to raise awareness and stoke a sense of urgency about the human rights, labor and environmental abuses that occur at sea.
“All of these abuses, whether they’re human rights abuses or environmental crimes, stem from a core problem, which is a lack of governance at sea, especially on the high seas,” said Urbina. “Specifically, there are three ways in which misbehavior happens offshore routinely and with impunity: too few rules, a lack of enforcement, and insufficient awareness of what is happening there.”
While these problems occur out of sight from those of us who live on land, Urbina says we are tacitly complicit in such activities that hold very serious implications for the future.
“We are all the beneficiaries of lawlessness on the high seas, where 90% of the products we consume come by way of ships and commercial channels unbothered by the government — and therefore, rules,” said Urbina. “We have been able to access impossibly cheap products that arrive to our shelves with incredible speed. 50% of our oxygen is from the ocean, and 70% of the protein we consume comes from the ocean: we are deeply dependent on the ocean.”
The lecture will be livestreamed on the URI Graduate School of Oceanography’s social media platforms. Please register to receive a weblink to the free lecture. A limited number of signed copies of The Outlaw Ocean will be given away to randomly selected registrants.
The Charles and Marie Fish Lecture is an annual public lecture endowed by the family of Drs. Charles and Marie Fish. The Fishes established a marine biological program at the University of Rhode Island in 1935 and eventually a graduate program in oceanography at the Narragansett Marine Laboratory, which later became URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography.