On April 16th, WISTA Sweden hosted a webinar where journalist Ian Urbina – Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times investigating reporter, author of best-selling book The Outlaw Ocean and founder of the Outlaw Ocean Project – spoke about the dark side of commercial activities on the oceans.
With several examples from his years of reporting on criminal activity and abuse of human rights in the shipping, offshore and fishing industries, Urbina draws a picture of what he calls the Last Untamed Frontier. In his work, he has travelled Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East, much of the time on board fishing vessels, and has witnessed appalling examples of poor onboard conditions, exploitation and environmental crime. And it all happens away from the public view.
“The global workforce in the fishing and merchant marine are generally invisible to the public. When bad things happen, we rarely hear about them.”
The aim of Ian Urbina’s Outlaw Ocean Project is to drive change by shedding some light on the criminal and exploitative activities on the world oceans. He has recently reported on crew abandonment and revealed how an abandoned Russian ship carrying ammonium nitrate played a role in last year’s devastating explosions in the port of Beirut.
“People often think of the oceans as this vacant space. The journalism [about the oceans] is anemic. There’s a lot of really good academic research about ocean activities out there, but it doesn’t get seen or funded.”
Ian Urbina points out that the oceans make up two-thirds of the surface of the earth, 56 million people work on the oceans and 80 percent of commerce is transported by sea, yet one mere percent of philanthropic dollars go to ocean research. “I think this is the fundamental problem”, he says.
Another guest at the webinar was Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU) in Malmö, Sweden. She is a distinguished academic in the field of international law and former Senior Legal Officer in the International Labour Organization (ILO). She commended Ian Urbina on his brave and often dangerous work.
“Corruption and exploitation are certainly endemic, often where regimes are weak. Building capacity in terms of education and training is a very important component in coming to terms with these problems and this is what we want to do here at the WMU”, said Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry.
Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry talked about how the seafarers of the world have borne the brunt of the pandemic and continue to do so. She first felt great hope when she saw how the IMO and other UN agencies came together to address the acute challenges caused by the pandemic.
“But there is still not enough done on a concrete basis to enable and facilitate crew transfer. There are still about 400,000 seafarers who haven’t been able to make it back home. We have seen depressions and suicides among crews. The maritime community has managed to make a lot of money during the pandemic, but what has been done for seafarers?”