Part 21. “Those in Peril on the Sea” The sea has many voices, many gods and many voices. (T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages)
As such things go, the North Atlantic is a relatively good place to abandon ship, and my own experience has made me more mindful of the daily, often horrific, dangers faced by others at sea. “In many parts of the world,” writes Ian Urbina, “the waters beyond national jurisdiction represent an outlaw ocean, where crimes ranging from murder and slavery to dumping and illegal fishing occur with impunity.”
The world’s ocean, whose contiguous parts are named Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Southern, is a vast, beautiful, dangerous and endangered place. As described by Scott Gass, its 139 million square miles cover 71% of Earth’s surface; it holds 97% of the world’s water and comprises 99% of the world’s biosphere. It has the world’s highest mountain, Hawaii’s Mauna Kea rising 33,000 feet from ocean floor to snow-capped peak; longest mountain range, Mid-Ocean Ridge, ten times longer than the Andes; deepest ravine, Challenger Deep, six times deeper than Grand Canyon; biggest waterfall, Denmark Strait cataract, which falls over two miles and carries 116 times more water per second than Congo’s Inga Falls; and largest animal ever, the 98-foot, 200-ton blue whale.
It is also a place, Urbina writes in “The Outlaw Ocean,” where “tens of thousands of workers, many of them children, are enslaved on boats” and thousands die each year, where commercial vessels devastate the world’s fishing stocks, dump oil and sludge at unsustainable rates, and emit more air pollutants “than all the world's cars.”
From a vital global commons we have fashioned a lawless global dump.