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September 26, 2022

Guest Blog: The Outlaw Ocean Podcast

Ian Urbina, director of The Outlaw Ocean, writes about the launch of his new podcast on environmental and human rights at sea.

This is a guest blog by Ian Urbina, director of The Outlaw Ocean Project, a non-profit journalism organization based in Washington DC that focuses on environmental and human rights concerns at sea globally.

Over eight years ago, I became interested in taking an investigative look at the 50 million people that work offshore and the range of threats that exist in the two-thirds of our planet covered in water. My interest was initially anthropological. I was fascinated by the lore, language, superstitions, living conditions, and even the crimes that existed at sea. Once I began spending more time reporting in that realm, I became captivated by the sheer power and beauty of the oceans.

I have stuck with it ever since. It’s difficult, especially in the internet era, to find topics that do not feel so crowded. When I went out to the sea and began discovering urgent human stories offshore, I was especially surprised at how little other journalism was being produced on this frontier. That’s why I have founded The Outlaw Ocean Project, a non-profit journalism organization based in Washington DC that focuses on environmental and human rights concerns at sea globally.

Too big to police, and under no clear international authority, the world’s oceans play host to rampant criminality and exploitation. They are, perhaps, the wildest and least understood frontiers on our planet. I have been drawn to the diversity of characters at sea because they are particularly invisible to us landlubbers, and that motivated me to tell their stories, and give them a voice on the world stage

Many of the environmental and human rights issues that surround the people who live and work on the high seas are distinctively urgent, sometimes even life-or-death matters, which meant that the reporting I was producing carried that much more gravity. In order to bring these urgent issues to a large, diverse, and global audience, I began to distribute the reporting not only in written forms but through other creative, unexpected mediums.

While reporting offshore, I assembled an extensive library of audio and field recordings. Two years ago I decided to use this material to create a podcast series, based on the past eight years of reporting at sea on all seven oceans and in more than three dozen countries.

The Outlaw Ocean Podcast is a seven-part series that explores a gritty and lawless realm rarely seen, populated by 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 podcast brings all of it together into an immersive audio documentary series.

This series is a labor of love. Not just for its storytelling, but also because I believe audio allows people to experience news stories in a more visceral way. And since the concerns we’re covering are deeply emotional, it matters that the story is felt, not just understood.


The podcast is now available on all platforms. Created and produced by The Outlaw Ocean Project. From CBC Podcasts and the L.A. Times. Click here to listen to the first episode.

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