Ian Urbina is a journalist, the director of The Outlaw Ocean Project, and the author of The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier.
What We Discuss with Ian Urbina:
- What makes the ocean the Earth’s final untamed frontier?
- Who has jurisdiction to enforce laws in international waters? For that matter, what are the laws, and who makes them?
- How does slavery persist on the open ocean? Who is most vulnerable to finding themselves enslaved, and who is profiting from their misery?
- What percentage of the fishing that supplies Western cities with delicious seafood is illegal?
- What can we do to ensure we’re not supporting high crimes on the high seas?
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
There are few remaining frontiers on our planet. But perhaps the wildest, and least understood, are the world’s oceans: too big to police, and under no clear international authority, these immense regions of treacherous water play host to rampant criminality and exploitation.
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 — drawing on five years of perilous and intrepid reporting, often hundreds of miles from shore, Ian Urbina — director of The Outlaw Ocean Project and author of The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier — introduces us to the inhabitants of this hidden world. Through their stories of astonishing courage and brutality, survival and tragedy, he uncovers a globe-spanning network of crime and exploitation that emanates from the fishing, oil, and shipping industries, and on which the world’s economies rely. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
This Episode Is Sponsored By:
- Airbnb: Find out how much your space is worth at airbnb.com/host
- Grammarly: Get 20% off premium at grammarly.com/jordan
- ZipRecruiter: Learn more at ziprecruiter.com/jordan
- Clarity: Clarity is absolutely free at clarity.microsoft.com
- BetterHelp: Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/jordan
- BackBeat Media: Listen to its fine roster of podcasts here!
Miss our conversation with Somali pirate hostage Michael Scott Moore? Catch up with episode 115: Michael Scott Moore | What It’s Really like to Be a Pirate Hostage here!
Thanks, Ian Urbina!
If you enjoyed this session with Ian Urbina, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina | Amazon
- The Outlaw Ocean Podcast
- The Outlaw Ocean Project
- Ian Urbina | Twitter
- Ian Urbina | Instagram
- Ian Urbina | Facebook
- Matthew Campbell | Examining Global Shipping’s Grim Underbelly | Jordan Harbinger
- Spencer Roberts | The Dirty Truth About Corporate Greenwashing | Jordan Harbinger
- Flags of Convenience | ITF Global
- The Invention of the Chilean Sea Bass | Priceonomics
- The Catch | The New York Times
- Illegal Fishing Fleets Generate $10 Billion in Annual Sales | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- Slavery Is Not Gone, It Has Just Moved Out to Sea | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- ‘Sea Slaves’: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- A Tanker and a Maze of Companies: One Way Illicit Oil Reaches North Korea | The New York Times
- Killer Whales Are Stalking Boats and Stealing Their Fish | The Verge
- Thieving Whale Caught On Tape! | Discovery
- Pilot Boarding Ship in Rough Weather | Marine Online
- New Study Reveals Significant Amount of Illegal Seafood Enters US | Oceana
- Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
- The Murder at Sea Investigation | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship | The New York Times
- The Stowaway’s Story | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- Maritime ‘Repo Men’: A Last Resort for Stolen Ships | The New York Times
- Max Hardberger | Badass of the Week
- Abandoned: The Seafarers Stuck at Sea for Two Years | Al Jazeera
- The Worsening State of Seafarers | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- Shell Companies In Fishing Industry Get New Attention | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- Thailand’s Sea Slaves: Shackled, Whipped and Beheaded | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- England: The Magic Pipe | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- Beyond Spills, Intentional Dumping of Oils Fouls the World’s Oceans | The Outlaw Ocean Project
- If You Can See It, You Can Change It | SkyTruth
- Why China Is Building Islands in the South China Sea | Vox
- China’s Island Building in the South China Sea: Damage to the Marine Environment, Implications, and International Law | US-China Economic and Security Review Commission
- I Want To Eat Fish Responsibly. But The Seafood Guides Are So Confusing! | The Salt
856: Ian Urbina | Maritime Misdeeds on the Outlaw Ocean
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Airbnb for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show. Maybe you've stayed at an Airbnb before and thought to yourself, "Yeah, this actually seems pretty doable. Maybe my place could be an Airbnb." It could be as simple as starting with a spare room or your whole place while you're away. Find out how much your place is worth at airbnb.com/host.
[00:00:18] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:20] Ian Urbina: Arms trafficking, oil smuggling, human smuggling, even just illicit cigarettes, whatever industry you want to name has a black market. And there's a good chance that the best way to move that black market good is by water.
[00:00:38] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker through long-form conversations with a variety of amazing folks, from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers and performers, even the occasional mafia enforcer, gold smuggler, astronaut, extreme athletes, or Russian chess grandmaster.
[00:01:08] And if you're new to the show or you're looking for a way to tell your friends about the show, our episode starter packs are a great place to do that. These are collections of our favorite episodes, well, actually your favorite episodes, organized by topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on this show. Topics like negotiation and communication, persuasion and influence, abnormal psychology, crime, and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:34] By the way, newsletter, a lot of you are really liking it. I'm stoked about the feedback so far. Basically, I go into the back catalog. I grab an episode that may have some relevance to today, but I take all the takeaways, really dissect a lot of the highlights from that, and write it out in an email, a very short, brief email that's supposed to be useful for you. jordanharbinger.com/news. Go check it out. I would love your feedback on it. jordanharbinger.com/news, and it's only once a week. It's not going to flood you, and I don't sell anything and no spam. I don't need your credit card number. Just want your feedback on this new project.
[00:02:07] Today, crime on the high seas. This episode was so fascinating. We talk about everything from poaching to dumping toxic waste to piracy, scams, fraud, even slavery on the high seas. There's so many wild stories. I ran out of time with Ian today. I know you're going to love this conversation, especially if you liked our previous episodes on shipping and greenwashing and environmental stuff. The high seas stuff is just always wild. There's no real law out there. There is, but there isn't. So it's really, the stuff that goes on is quite unbelievable and that's what we're going to go over here today. So let's go with Ian Urbina.
[00:02:49] You've actually done a ton of work covering the dark side of the ocean and, man, I knew there was some crazy stuff, crime and all that going out on the high seas, but your book really opened my eyes to some of, frankly, some of the worst of humanity just running roughshod on human rights out there. I mean, it's truly lawless on the open seas, man.
[00:03:07] Ian Urbina: Yeah, I mean, it was shocking to me. I had worked at sea a little bit and heard stories, but not until I got out there did I see like. And what's funny is lawless for good and for bad, I mean, I decided to call it the outlaw ocean for a reason, which is to say it's sort of more extra legal than illegal.
[00:03:24] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:24] Ian Urbina: A lot of it has to do with not just, you know, bad behavior, but also murky laws. No laws, no enforcement of what laws do exist. And people can kind of do as they please and often that's not good.
[00:03:34] Jordan Harbinger: This Interpol Purple Notice, I've heard of the Red Notice where they're looking for like Bill Browder because he pissed off Vladimir Putin, but I haven't heard of a Purple Notice. I don't know what these are.
[00:03:44] Ian Urbina: Purple Notice is something that you have to work hard to get put on you. These are sort of repeat scofflaw—
[00:03:50] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:50] Ian Urbina: —offenders on ships. They essentially are a ship that for many years, well-documented as engaged, usually in either sanctions busting, you know, so North Korea, Venezuela, moving oil, moving arms to Yemen. Human trafficking out of Columbia is often how those guys end up on there. And then, illegal fishing and murder, you know, if you've got a vessel where a very well-documented case of murder has occurred, they've been on purple list. But essentially, it's a ship-based Red Notice. And essentially, it's an arrest on-site notice. The irony, of course, is that no one enforces it. Many of these ships have Purple Notices on them. They roll in and out of port, they unload their illicit cargo, and they go back out to see. And other countries don't really check the list or even care if the name's on there.
[00:04:36] Jordan Harbinger: That's what didn't make any sense to me. Because if you've got a ship that's like flagged in Liberia, but it's run out of China or I don't know, whatever sort of South Africa and it's fishing illegally all over the place, who do you call when you find that ship in the open ocean, either on a satellite or on transponder system, or you just see it? You don't dial, I mean, what's the 911? Like, "Hey, I found this ship. It's got a Purple Notice on it. It's in Sierra Leone waters. Go get it." That doesn't sound like that's even possible.
[00:05:08] Ian Urbina: I mean, you've struck at the core challenges. You know, laws are only as good as their enforcement and there are no cops on the high seas, so there is no enforcement. In this way, there are agreements and treaties and some laws that exist. So if you find a vessel that is a purple lister, the next big challenge if you were a do-gooder, if you're a human rights lawyer or whatever, would be to figure out what country would care enough and who's got enough skin in that game. If it's a vessel that's tied to a reputation-vulnerable brand name, a Maersk containership, you know, for example, okay, now you're in the game because those guys care if their name shows up on the front page of the Washington Post. Most of the vessels out there where the really dark stuff happens are not in that category. These are fishing vessels, not merchant marine. And there are no names that anyone could recognize.
[00:05:59] And then, the other issue is if you're looking to try to get someone interested, you know, a lawyer or a cop in country X, and you need to figure out, okay, are there guys on that ship who are the culprits or the victims of the crime? Or did the crime happen against their waters, country X's waters? Usually, the victims of the crimes are trafficked folks from real far away. And these places are super poor. And so those countries don't have a robust history of political laws and lawyers that are ready to jump in the game, right? So that's going to be a tough way to go.
[00:06:32] And then, the culprits, these might be middle, second to first world nations. So maybe you can find a country that wants to go after its own guys because they did something bad. But you have to know who to contact in that country and get them interested. And if they don't want to do it, they've got 10 ways to get out of it. Oh, well, that was on the high seas. Oh, well that ship is flagged to another country. So we don't have jurisdiction, we have no boats. I don't have time. You know, a gazillion ways for them to step back.
[00:06:57] Jordan Harbinger: So you mentioned that people on the boats are often the victims and they're trafficked. If I'm talking about sea poaching, illegal fishing, are we talking about, let's say the captain of the boat is some American dude or whatever, but all the sailors are from Thailand, the middle of nowhere, and they can't do anything because they're, I don't know, 5,000 miles away from home and in the middle of the ocean and they just get, they're stuck. Is that kind of the situation?
[00:07:23] Ian Urbina: Yeah, I mean, your, so your textbook ship here would be, it's a ship that's on the high seas. Let's say for sake of example, near the South China Sea, it's a Thai vessel. It's got a crew of 40 guys. Four to five of those guys are officers and they're Thai. Then, you have a boson who's the middleman. He's the crew manager. He's the scary dude. He administers the beatings and the killings and stuff like that. He usually speaks the language of the bosses and the language of the crew. The crew tends to be a different ethnicity. Those are migrant workers. On this ship, this made-up ship where we're talking about Cambodians, Slovenians, Rohingya, Burmese.
[00:08:00] So these are typically migrants who have been trafficked into the country. They've debt bonded in, so they had their passports taken away. They earned a debt on the inbound because they didn't have any money to come in and get the job. And so then they're put on the vessel. The vessel goes way far from shore. Maybe they're all the way over near the coast of Somalia. Who knows where they are? So there are gazillion reasons they can't get off. They don't have their passport. They don't even speak the language of the officers. They're a thousand miles from home. They're off the coast of a pretty brutal area. They're not going anywhere. And that's your typical sea slavery situation.
[00:08:31] Jordan Harbinger: It's crazy that there's sea slaves and I've talked about the different types of flags on ships and how that's kind of a racket. I did an episode with this author, that you probably know, Matthew Campbell—
[00:08:40] Ian Urbina: Smart guy.
[00:08:40] Jordan Harbinger: That was episode 739 about examining global shipping's, kind of grim underbelly. But that was shipping. We touched on the flag stuff. We didn't talk a whole lot about sea slavery. It sounds like a lot of what's being fished illegally is something called toothfish, which is really gross until you find out it's Chilean sea bass, which is really good.
[00:09:00] Ian Urbina: Indeed.
[00:09:01] Jordan Harbinger: So when I order this deliciousness at restaurants, am I contributing to sea slavery a lot of the time? Or is it like that's not the fish I'm eating?
[00:09:09] Ian Urbina: Yeah, I mean, so Chilean sea bass as you call it, you know, the hotel staple—
[00:09:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:09:13] Ian Urbina: —in indeed is a problematic target species. The sea slavery issue doesn't tie that much to it because those vessels are typically fishing down in the south, in the southern ocean. And those vessels, for various reasons, the ships cost a lot more. And the players in that market, and they're very automated. So usually, the workers on those vessels are not sea slaves. The vessels that you know are more likely to be involved with slavery are older, poor, smaller vessels that aren't going to cold climates because you can't have a faulty ship that's barely seaworthy down in the southern ocean. You're all going to die.
[00:09:50] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:51] Ian Urbina: But you're looking at tuna vessels, longline tuna vessels. You're looking at squid vessels or brutal, brutal vessels. Fish meal, the stuff gets that fed to livestock. Those vessels are old, poor, migrant dependent, you know, labor intensive, not automated, and they're staying at sea for two years straight. And those vessels are your high-target sea slavery vessels.
[00:10:12] Jordan Harbinger: When you say they stay at sea for two years straight, how is that possible? I think a lot of people are going, well, they got to go into port, they got to refuel, they got to get supplies. How are they at sea for two years straight? Or you just mean that they're in and out all the time?
[00:10:23] Ian Urbina: They're at sea for two years. So it's something called at-sea transshipment. It's submerged in the last decade, decade and a half, two decades. And essentially, you know, the backstory is interesting. It's an environmental story. As nearshore stocks collapsed, so as all the fish nearshore, the easy catch, disappeared, ships had to go further away. And if you look at the cost of a typical fishing operation, labor and fuel are your biggest costs. So the further you go away, the tighter your margins, right? So if you're going really far away, high seas fishing, your margins are negative. And so the only way you can kind of cut corners and actually make some money is don't come back to shore and use real cheap or free labor. Okay? So don't come back to shore looks like you send a mothership, a refrigeration vessel out to wherever you are. She picks up all your catch. She delivers ice, she brings extra repair, fuel, she brings tools, maybe a swap out of guys, but typically not. And then she brings it back, that mothership brings it back to shore and you keep fishing the whole time. That saves a lot of money, but it's also a huge driver of captivity and neglect and abuse.
[00:11:29] Jordan Harbinger: So this to me, and tell me if I'm exaggerating, because I don't like hyperbole. It sounds like you got a floating prison, a floating Alcatraz that gets fuel, food, other resources from other ships and the ships that are violating the law, keeping slaves, whatever they're floating in the middle of international waters where nobody's looking for them. Nobody's enforcing anything. Nobody maybe even can do anything and the mothership comes back and says, "I got all these totally legal fish from this other vessel that is none of your business/we're lying about where it is or it. We don't know if they're up to code. That's not my job. My job is to go get the fish and deliver a couple of cans of fuel. That's all I know. We're a totally different company." That kind of thing. And they're just away from authority for years and years and years and years. So nobody can jump overboard at a port and be like, "I'm trafficked, help me." And they're like, "Why did this guy jump off your boat?" It's like, no, he's 3000 mile or whatever, a thousand miles offshore in a floating prison. Is that accurate?
[00:12:23] Ian Urbina: It is accurate. I mean, again, since you and I share the desire to steer clear of hyperbole, the nuance here is to point out that, look, this is not all fishing vessels. We're talking about a small portion of the most brutal percentage, but it's real and it's not that small. Right? But yes, the portion we're talking about is real. There are a lot of guys in this situation. And indeed, you know, there was this saying, one guy told me, a worker, a deckhand said, "This work and this life is like prison with a salary, except the salary is not guaranteed."
[00:12:53] Jordan Harbinger: Oof.
[00:12:53] Ian Urbina: And the other thing you say about you melded two things there. The experience of remove and captivity is real. And then, furthermore, the sort of are as consumer experience, the sort of plausible deniability that Red Lobster or Chicken of the Sea or—
[00:13:11] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:13:11] Ian Urbina: Or whatever your local hotel can get away with through this globalized situation where folks can say, I don't know. I mean, there's no way for us to know because that stuff is happening way out there and it's getting handed off. That's by design. You know, it's not inadvertent that the marketplace has allowed this to become the norm. It's quite beneficial for sellers of seafood to be able to say, "We don't know really what's going on in those vessels. That's not our concern. We just take the stuff from the reefer that arrives, support." And that's the biggest problem. That's what makes seafood different from soccer balls or soybeans or anything that's on land.
[00:13:43] Jordan Harbinger: It's amazing you even found this stuff out because look, if Nike is making shoes or Apple's making iPhones, some investigative journalist is going to be like, "Hey, this is one of those plants. Look, they got suicide nets and there's police here, and somebody that I know got an undercover job there and they managed to take hidden camera footage." That's not going to happen on a ship that has slaves.
[00:14:04] Ian Urbina: Right.
[00:14:04] Jordan Harbinger: You don't have a bunch of hiring or people who can take photos with a telegraphic lens from far away. I mean, they're in the middle of nowhere.
[00:14:11] Ian Urbina: Yeah. No, I mean, you're right. Like a 13-year-old is shackled in a factory making soccer balls in some Amazon forest. Eventually, someone's going to find out where it's going to get out.
[00:14:21] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:22] Ian Urbina: Eventually, the government's maybe going to impose some sort of spot check system where they can go check and make sure folks aren't chained in there. Eventually, the brands are going to be like, look, we don't want to be affiliated. Mm-hmm. Now come over to my universe, the high seas, the entire system was set up to not be able to do that. So for example, one huge challenge is that factory in the middle of the Amazon, it's on Brazilian territory. There's Brazilian law, and the Brazilian cops who you call now go to the high seas. There are no laws that actually dictate labor standards on the work floor on the factory that's floating out there. So it's like the space station. And so even if you could get over the logistics of a spot check a thousand miles from shore, someone was willing to put up the fuel and just show up and say, "Hey, you got any 13-year-old shackled here?" Then what? Like, who's prosecuting and based on what? Because you're in a jurisdiction that doesn't really have clear rules. That's the big problem.
[00:15:18] Jordan Harbinger: The sort of newb question is, hey, aren't there ship transponders? How do we not just know where these guys are? Don't we have satellites? We can look and find them? And if we know the ship is violating the law, why doesn't somebody go out there and try to do it? Or is it really that hard to find these ships? Do they just turn that location stuff off?
[00:15:38] Ian Urbina: Tell me about that. Yeah. I mean, again, intuitively, especially us who consume Hollywood stuff.
[00:15:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:45] Ian Urbina: You know, it makes us think that that's super easy.
[00:15:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, enhance. You just say enhance and it zooms in on the ship and you see everything that's going on in real time.
[00:15:52] Ian Urbina: You swipe your thumb and forefinger out and zoom in.
[00:15:55] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:56] Ian Urbina: Yeah. No. So first of all, there are satellites up in the sky and there is some eyes on some especially conflict zone regions. But that footage, the cost point of that footage is extremely high. It hasn't come down. So, and furthermore, the satellites that are up there are government or expensive private sector. So average folk, certainly poor nations, but even rich nations with NGOs who want to be able to see spaces can't afford it. Okay? Point one, point two, there are not enough satellites up in the sky, so we don't have eyes on the entire sea space. There just isn't the infrastructure up there. Point three, the satellites that are up there bring you a level of granularity that's not enough to actually do anything with it. Okay, so you can lay eyes on a ship that's over in these North Korean waters breaking the UN sanctions. Okay, you can see a ship. Can you see which ship it is? No. Can you see the writing on the side of the ship so that it has unique identifier, a license plate so you can identify it. Most of those guys don't have those on the side.
[00:16:54] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:16:55] Ian Urbina: Et cetera. So there are lots of logistical challenges. And then that's coming one direction from sky down to water. From water up to sky, there is something called AIS, it's transponders that transmit location, but you flip the switch, you turn that off, and if you're doing bad stuff, most folks turn off their AIS, most of the time they're at sea. And this is where you get into a fundamental cultural and legal difference between planes, post-9/11, trains, trucks. You can't leave in a 747 from place X and go to place Y and not alert someone. Here's where I'm going, here's what I'm carrying. Here are the names of the guys on board. You're going to see me the whole time. Here's my ETA et cetera. You cannot, in this world, fly something that big. In the fishing space, if you even ask those folks, "Hey, wait, why'd you go dark for three weeks?" Or, "Could I get a crew manifest?" Or, "What's the cargo you're carrying?" Those captains will look at you like you're insane. Like, "Who are you?"
[00:17:47] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:48] Ian Urbina: You know? So there's a cultural and legal difference around fishing, distant water fishing that doesn't exist for any other mode of transport.
[00:17:55] Jordan Harbinger: I was watching some video from the New York Times the other day. And they did some investigation where they found, Winston Shipping was the name of the company and it was based out of Singapore. And they were doing something like take a ship from Taiwan or Fujian in China. Then go to, I can't remember where, and get oil. And suddenly they vanish for a week or two. But they found satellite photos of them in a port North Korea, off the coast of North Korea in international waters, transferring the oil from a ship that they own to an another ship that then that ship goes to North Korea or to Iran or some crazy crap like that. And the investigation was really incredible. They had found that the guy who owns the boats turned out to be this like small time nobody who lives in a little like a shack, but that guy had at one time worked for this big company and all the other ship owners and all these subsidiary owners, they all grew up in the same village and went to elementary and middle school together. And there's like photos of them as kids hanging out. And it's really good investigation because you're like, damn. They went to some village in Fuji, in China, found out that these guys all knew each other from back in the day and used to play whatever, you know, tether ball. And now they own an international smuggling ring where one guy probably runs the shipping company and the other guys either just sit around with signing documents with their names on the ship, or they work at the same place and have real jobs. It's crazy the length that these folks will go. And those guys, to be fair to China, which isn't always the good guy on my show, especially these guys have all fled China because it's organized crime. I mean, it's just mafia stuff.
[00:19:27] Ian Urbina: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
[00:19:27] Jordan Harbinger: But it's crazy how complex this stuff is, the sanctions busting, and it's amazing that nobody can really do anything. And this is North Korea where they're shipping oil to a nuclear power to a nuclear country. So fishing is like not even a blip on the radar of lets go enforce this.
[00:19:42] Ian Urbina: Yeah. Fishing is such a weird thing. There's an island in Greece called Chios. It's in the book, but it's a very similar place. It's an obscure island, and 40 to 50 percent of the major shipping magnates are from this island. They all know each other and no one talks to outsiders. Again, arms trafficking, oil smuggling, human smuggling, even just illicit cigarettes, whatever industry you want to name has a black market. And there's a good chance that the best way to move that black market good is by water.
[00:20:12] Jordan Harbinger: Just because of what we're talking about, right? No enforcement. Huge quantities.
[00:20:16] Ian Urbina: Yeah.
[00:20:16] Jordan Harbinger: The end.
[00:20:17] Ian Urbina: Exactly.
[00:20:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. And probably decently low cost compared to flying it on a plane.
[00:20:20] Ian Urbina: Right. But it's got so many other amenities, flag state, convenience, et cetera, that it's the best way to move stuff.
[00:20:27] Jordan Harbinger: It's weird that in this modern age, the OG way of traveling turns out to also be the most effective. Because you're thinking like, we have Bitcoin and we have all these illicit digital things and we can fly through space. And it's like, no, let's put it on — wait for it — a boat and no one will be able to do anything about it. It's like, wait.
[00:20:46] Ian Urbina: That's right.
[00:20:46] Jordan Harbinger: This is ridiculous. They have to go to a port. They're super slow. Tons of people work on them. They're old and rusty and they're just kind of floating along. This is the best way to smuggle people, drugs, cigarettes, fish, guns. This is it?
[00:21:01] Ian Urbina: Yeah.
[00:21:01] Jordan Harbinger: It's like too simple. I almost don't want to believe it.
[00:21:03] Ian Urbina: It's the boiling the frog thing. It's like—
[00:21:06] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:21:06] Ian Urbina: —law enforcement is expecting the intruders to come at them fast and furious. They're going to bring that coke in by drone. No, no, no. They're going to walk really slowly.
[00:21:17] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:21:17] Ian Urbina: And they're going to come not to the main port, but the one five miles over to the east because at 11 o'clock that dude's asleep and they can unload 40 shipping containers of whatever they want. It's just that simple.
[00:21:30] Jordan Harbinger: Who profits from the piracy and illegal fishing stuff? Because at first I was like, we got to put the hammer down on these captains. But then, as an attorney, I'm like, well, there's some onshore company that's got bankers, lawyers, and 500 other people working for each of these giant oil tankers that comes in smuggling illicit goods. Right?
[00:21:50] Ian Urbina: Yeah. I mean the, the benefits are decentralized. It's called globalization.
[00:21:55] Jordan Harbinger: I've heard of that.
[00:21:58] Ian Urbina: Yes, the biggest company players categorically in the fishing space, the distant water fishing space will be the seafood company, that's actually like tied to the fishing vessels and usually the reefer, the refrigeration vessel, usually there's an ownership connection there. Those guys are making big money because they're moving stuff on tonnage and they often usually have multiple dots in the supply chain. So they got the boat, they got the reefer in, they got the processing plant. Okay. There's big money in that. And then the other beneficiaries, if we're really honest, are you and me and the western buyers, right, who are getting this stuff insanely cheap and fast and huge quantities.
[00:22:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:22:36] Ian Urbina: And they're making money on the front end of selling it. They are big beneficiaries of all this illegality. It's the only way that they could be possibly getting that stuff so cheap is by these cut corners.
[00:22:47] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned earlier fishing at extreme. Was it latitudes? Kind of the Southern Ocean. Is that south, south like by Antarctica South? Is that what we're talking about?
[00:22:56] Ian Urbina: Yeah.
[00:22:56] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:22:57] Ian Urbina: Yeah, I've been on those vessels down there and yeah, that's exactly where they are. You're going to find toothfish.
[00:23:01] Jordan Harbinger: You've been on those vessels. What is it like? Is it deadliest catch but in real life, or is it worse? I mean, it sounds, I mean, cold first of all.
[00:23:08] Ian Urbina: Yeah, I mean, so I went on a long in bed on a ship out of Punta Arenas, Chile, a toothfish vessel, you know, Chilean captain, couple of Spanish officers and the rest Chileans, just to see what that life was like. It's pretty amazing the those waters down there. Drake Passage in particular is this one latitude where it's the only spot on planet Earth where there's no land that breaks up winds and waves, and they can traverse the entire circumference of the globe if they stay in that 45-degree latitude.
[00:23:40] Jordan Harbinger: Oh.
[00:23:40] Ian Urbina: And so they get damn big, you know, 90-mile winds, 100-mile winds are pretty common in massive waves. So Drake Passage is why it's where most ships sink, historically, because it's insane down there. So that was epic to experience crossing Drake Passage to get down to Antarctica. I was on a vessel that wasn't a sea slave vessel. This was a highly automated, you know, super clean, amazing ship, but it's this massive weird Dickensian factory setting. There's a whole second deck, was kind of Willy Wonka kind of conveyor belt style factory where this six and a half, 10-foot fish, these monster fish that are ugly as sin. That's why they were renamed from toothfish to Chilean seabass, you know, moves down this conveyor belt and these guys with these massive knives are just like slicing and dicing by the time it gets all the way to the end it's just little squares.
[00:24:31] The reason I went there was there's this phenomena where the killer whales and minke whales in particular, but also sperm whales have figured out that there's a sort of a floating diner, an all-you-can-eat diner in the form of these ships. And when they are dragging a 40-mile line behind them to catch the toothfish, and they let it sit and drag for a week. And it fills up with half a million dollars worth of catch, the minute they start pulling that line up to the ship, the winch makes a certain sound. And literally, a dozen whales who have been following your ship the whole time go at it and they rip into the line and eat virtually everything from the line. The whales have gotten smart and only start doing this in the last decade, and the captains throw dynamite. They fire shotguns, they try to poison.
[00:25:16] Jordan Harbinger: Oh.
[00:25:16] Ian Urbina: They've tried everything, but that's the story that most attracted me was like, this is crazy. There's a man versus animal war going on out there, and the whales are winning.
[00:25:26] Jordan Harbinger: You are listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Ian Urbina. We'll be right back.
[00:25:31] This episode is sponsored in part by Grammarly. Ever hit a wall with some writer's block? We've all been there. Tirelessly, juggling words and ideas throughout the day. Even the most gifted among us, sometimes need a helping hand. Enter Grammarly's revolutionary AI tool that will blow your mind, Grammarly Go. Brace yourself for a communication assistant so powerful it can navigate a million different situations with ease. Prepare to be amazed as Grammarly Go becomes your trusted ally in enhancing your writing skills, making it more persuasive and sparking your creative genius. I'm often faced with having to send a rejection letter to somebody that really wants to be on the show. With Grammarly Go crafting that friendly rejection becomes a breeze. I hover over the Grammarly Go icon. I request a ready-made draft, and in milliseconds, the tool presents me with a perfectly tailored letter. But that's not all it does — blog posts, birthday party invitations, business plan, food truck flyers, whatever. Just as Grammarly Go, the possibilities are limitless. And if you're a student, this is a great way to cheat on everything for the rest of your life. Give Grammarly Go a try. Let this AI gem be your trusty sidekick, empowering you to conquer the realms of written expression like never before. Obviously, I used Grammarly go for this ad script.
[00:26:36] Jen Harbinger: You'll be amazed at what you can do with Grammarly Go. Go to grammarly.com/go to download and learn more about Grammarly Go. That's G-R-A-M-M-A-R-L-Y.com/go.
[00:26:48] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by ZipRecruiter. Navigating the stormy recruitment waters in these uncertain economic times, looking to onboard your dream team without springing a leak in your financial ship, well, batten down the hatches. ZipRecruiter is your trusty first mate. In this hiring adventure, it's tailored to suit you and your unique requirements. You see how annoying this would be in a pirate accent. Come on, folks. With ZipRecruiter, the wind's always in your favor. Everything they do from pricing to tech is done with your needs at the helm. And the cherry on the cake, you can try them for free at ziprecruiter.com/jordan. Worried about hidden treasure maps and pricing? Fear not with transparent pricing, you stay the captain of your budget. What your job listing to travel to the farthest corners of the job seat? ZipRecruiter ensures your vacancy reaches over a hundred job sites, attracting a vibrant mix of capable candidates. With ZipRecruiter intelligent tech, you can spot the shining stars among candidates and see a navigation reference. And personally, invite them aboard your ship before others snatch them away.
[00:27:47] Jen Harbinger: Hire the best with the help of a partner who's all about you — ZipRecruiter. Four out of five employers who post on ZipRecruiter, get a quality candidate within the first day. Just go to this exclusive web address to try ZipRecruiter for free, ziprecruiter.com/jordan. Again, that's ziprecruiter.com/J-O-R-D-A-N. ZipRecruiter, the smartest way to hire.
[00:28:10] Jordan Harbinger: If you're wondering how I managed to book all these amazing folks for the show, all these authors, thinkers, creators, every single week, it is because of my network. I think that word is kind of gross. Networking as a word, as a term is kind of gross. This course is free. It's not schmoozy, it's not gross. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. It's all about improving your relationship, building skills, and inspiring other people to want to develop a relationship with you. Non-cringey, down to earth, not awkward, not cheesy, you're not going to feel weird doing it. It takes just a few minutes a day. And many of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. So, hey, come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong. You can find the course at jordanharbinger.com/course.
[00:28:50] Now back to Ian Urbina.
[00:28:54] I don't love the idea that a fisherman is trying to poison things as they're also reeling up my dinner. That seems not super safe. I mean, the shotgun pellet is a little worrisome, but the poisoning thing and the killing of orcas who are in their own water, eating their own sort of prey—
[00:29:09] Ian Urbina: Right. Exactly.
[00:29:09] Jordan Harbinger: —is also a little bit—
[00:29:10] Ian Urbina: Seems unfair.
[00:29:10] Jordan Harbinger: Seems unfair. Yeah. Wow. I can't, this is, that is crazy. That is unattractive story except for the part about living on a ship that could get you killed and freezing to death in the water. That's why you have that job. And I sit here in my pajamas doing podcasts. The way you describe it is really wild. In the book you mentioned, you jumped into a skiff. The boat's moving but the skiff, which is a small boat for those who don't know, is also moving in these waves. And you can't stop the boats at this point in time. I can't remember why. But you can't just like stop and get in this thing and lower it. It's like you're jumping in there, but if you fall overboard, you're totally dead. There's no way they can get you one, the boat's moving, but two, it's freezing and there's waves. I would never do — do you have kids? What are you thinking? Why would you do that?
[00:29:53] Ian Urbina: My wife actually feed you these lines or something?
[00:29:56] Jordan Harbinger: It just occurred to me.
[00:29:57] Ian Urbina: No, I mean, you're quite right. Like people are like, "Wow, it sounds so dangerous. Aren't those people going to kill you?" And I'm like, actually, the two things that are most dangerous are exactly the thing ship transfer—
[00:30:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:07] Ian Urbina: —is insane and super dangerous, and one wrong move and you're dead. And then infection, you know, on the really bad vessels, not the toothfish vessels, but the—
[00:30:17] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:17] Ian Urbina: The sea slave vessels that we're getting on rats and roaches. And you're there for weeks and it's just so unhygienic that you can get really sick. But yeah, those ship transfers are sort of insane and it's sort of, I mean I just, in this current investigation, you don't want to stop the ship because on very high seas. If you stop a ship, things get way worse. It's like a bicycle, right? You know, like when you're in forward motion, you're actually moving less because you're cutting waves and the engine is keeping you at a steady momentum that's flat. But if you stop, if you were to cut your engine, now you're a ping pong in a bathtub and you're getting, or washing machine, getting really tossed you. So you never want to cut off your engines so you could avoid it. You don't even want to drop anchor if you could avoid it. So that's why if you're going to do a transfer, you want to be moving somewhat but getting the synchronicity right between a small boat that's literally three stories down the steel side of you, and you're going up and down and they're going up and down and trying to figure out when's the right moment to jump across. That's really risky.
[00:31:17] Jordan Harbinger: I get cringing and if you're watching a YouTube version, I'm sitting here like, touching my face in a very anxious way, thinking about jumping down from a huge three-story tall vessel. I can't, that's nightmare fuel, man. Your wife didn't need to feed me these lines. That's too much for me. I can't handle it. Do we know what percentage of fishing is illegal? Any idea?
[00:31:37] Ian Urbina: The number that gets bandied about is one in five and that's a number that I can't remember who—
[00:31:42] Jordan Harbinger: 20 percent?
[00:31:43] Ian Urbina: Yeah.
[00:31:43] Jordan Harbinger: —of fishing is illegal.
[00:31:44] Ian Urbina: Yeah. 20 percent of stuff that ends up on American plates—
[00:31:48] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:31:48] Ian Urbina: —is IUU, is illegally caught.
[00:31:51] Jordan Harbinger: That probably means more then, right? Because if the United States, which theoretically maybe be, kind of, sort of cares about this, then what percentage of my fish if I'm eating dinner in Cambodia is legally caught? I don't know about that.
[00:32:04] Ian Urbina: Yeah.
[00:32:04] Jordan Harbinger: That might even be more dodgy.
[00:32:06] Ian Urbina: Yeah. No, I think, the number's going to be, that's going to be a very low end floor. The other thing that makes it low end is the typical term is IUU, illegal, unregulated, unreported. So the U and the U refer to places where there just isn't law. So it's not officially illegal, but it's completely unsustainable. If you look at I UU and you look at other places that don't really care, you know about trying to track their imports, then you're only going to go up from 20 percent.
[00:32:32] Jordan Harbinger: So fishing companies, abuses of workers, environmental policies, it seems like we just can't stop these repeat offenders. I know there's boats like the Sea Shepherd that will ram them and whatnot, which is, I mean, also illegal, but that's one of those where you're kind of like golf clap, right? You know, look, go get them. Nobody else is going to bother. Yes, it's illegal and you're probably technically a terrorist, but we also get it. It seems like being on the inside of this, you have whistleblower issues, right? Because if you're a captain and you go, "Hey, my boss is asking me to do illegal stuff," can you ever be a captain anywhere again in your whole life?
[00:33:07] Ian Urbina: Yeah. So in some instances there are, in some places in the world, there are requirements that there are fishery observers on board, and these are sort of third party players who are supposed to be there. Those observers are fishery observers, so they're focused on the fishing issues, not the labor issues, right? And so they're looking at — are you going places you're not allowed to be? Are you using the wrong type of gear? Are you having bycatch? Are you targeting sharks that are protected species, et cetera? They're looking at fishery issues. Is your tonnage right to your quota? All these sorts of things. And they're keeping a little binder. They are a guest in a hotel they don't own, right? So like those guys and women have to be pretty darn careful. And some phishy observers have been disappeared from vessels. It's a very dangerous line of work. Fishing is the world's most dangerous profession, but that's one thing that does exist. There's a push for onboard cameras.
[00:34:01] And Sea Shepherd's got eight ships and Greenpeace has ships, and then US Coast Guard and other kind of coastal nations are increasingly trying to find ways to not just protect the security of their border, but also think about food security and not just in their waters, but other partner nations. You know, they're having a more holistic look at this issue. So key players are inching into this space. But again, like you said, you're a deckhand. You see some shady stuff go down. Maybe you capture some cell phone footage, but like the evidentiary findings, what you have to prove is very weak if you can even find someone willing to do anything with it. It happened way over there way long ago with proof being this shaky cell phone footage. So it's a tough thing and you might get blacklisted, as you say.
[00:34:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Speaking of shady stuff with cell phone footage, didn't you, was this in the book? Somebody had filmed like a murder of, I guess, crew members. What was that all about?
[00:35:01] Ian Urbina: Yeah, so this was the story that I sort of began investigating in 2015. I had gotten a video sent to me by a source at Interpol who knew I was interested in maritime crime. It's a 10-minute, 26-second long sort of slow motion slaughter captured on the cell phone. That cell phone had been found in the back of a taxi in Fiji by some random passenger.
[00:35:21] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:35:21] Ian Urbina: And handed over to the police. The video shows this kind of situation on waters where it's unclear, but essentially some guys with semi-automatic weapons on what turned out to be a Taiwanese tuna longliner are doing target practice on these other guys in the water. The guys in the water are five that you see over the course of the video. They're all killed one by one, head shots. And then the most shocking thing to me at least, is at the end of the video, the witnesses or the culprits, we don't know, but folks on deck of the shooters turned the camera on themselves and sort of celebrate for selfies and sort of party down.
[00:35:56] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:35:56] Ian Urbina: Like the bloodletting.
[00:35:57] Jordan Harbinger: Gross.
[00:35:58] Ian Urbina: So that video was like really disturbing.
[00:36:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:36:00] Ian Urbina: And that began an eight-year-long investigation we did. And ultimately, that led to a front page piece in the New York Times and the front end, and then on the tail end and the front page piece in the Washington Post. And the captain of that vessel who ordered the killings was caught and arrested and is behind bars now.
[00:36:14] Jordan Harbinger: That's so gross. And also I want to highlight that the only reason they got them is because some idiot filmed it, turned the camera filmed himself, then kept the video on his phone, then got drunk and left it in a cab. Then someone else found that, went through the phone, which I would never do if I found a frigging phone, found that then had the sort of emotional intelligence to go, "Wow, this is a crime and probably an unprosecuted one, unresolved murder. I should turn this in," and then somebody else did something with it. I mean, it's like miracle after miracle.
[00:36:45] Ian Urbina: Right.
[00:36:45] Jordan Harbinger: And then, one guy goes to prison for this murder that probably happens, this type of murder, that happens maybe all the time.
[00:36:51] Ian Urbina: Yeah, you're spot on by lining up all those and then, and then, and then.
[00:36:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:36:55] Ian Urbina: And then, the last then is in some ways the darkest and that the dude on the ship who's probably not even making decisions himself, he's taking orders from on land. The captain goes to jail. So the private maritime security guys wielding the guns. Their name never came out and they were never even questioned, much less charge. And now, go to the opposite extreme, the owner of the fishing company is some big player in Taiwan, scot-free, you know?
[00:37:20] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:37:21] Ian Urbina: Like so no penalties, no fines, no prison time for the true beneficiary. The crappy captain probably is barely making ends meet, now his life is ruined. He deserved to be behind bars, but you're right. You know, this is just not necessarily a full success story. It's just a fluke.
[00:37:37] Jordan Harbinger: Right. And you got to be dumb enough to film your crime and then basically hand it over to prosecutors to even get this sort of, what do you call it, sacrificial lamb locked up.
[00:37:45] Ian Urbina: Right.
[00:37:45] Jordan Harbinger: That's it. I know you wrote about stowaways, and I was surprised to hear that this still exists. Who is stowing away now? It sounds like something you see in a pirate cartoon.
[00:37:55] Ian Urbina: What's amazing is there are a couple of key locations, especially in Africa, but other places too. One of them is in South Africa, in Cape Town, and it's a specific port. Why it's a magnet for stowaways? I don't know. But that it is, is for sure because we actually embedded a videographer and two videographers to live with these guys for a long time and for I think going on four weeks, our folks were living in this shanty town where everyone there was stowing away.
[00:38:21] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:38:22] Ian Urbina: They were right next to the port and they knew how to get to the port, and they were watching for key ships to roll into Cape Town and then sneak through the fence. And 90 percent of these guys are from Tanzania. I've never gotten an answer of why so many Tanzanias do this as opposed to other countries. But bottom line is it's sort of a roll of the dice. It's an adventure, it's a bragging rights, chance to sort of go someplace else, anywhere else that might be better. And they don't know typically where that ship is headed. When they get on board, they just sort of know that it's a big ship and they think they know how they can get on board and it looks like it's going to go someplace else. So we looked at one show in particular who he and his buddy, it didn't go so well. They got rafted, they got put on a raft once they were at sea by the crew and sort of left in the middle of the ocean to die.
[00:39:10] Jordan Harbinger: What? That's a whole nother nightmare. So they find you, what, in the engine room or something? And they're like, "Well, we can't keep these guys in the boat." So they put you in a lifeboat and they just cut you loose.
[00:39:21] Ian Urbina: Yeah. And in this case, it's sort of like from the perspective of those who do it. Like in this case there's a ship called the Dona Liberta. These are two Tanzanians. And they discovered the guys, they locked them down. The captain told the crew build a raft, you know, oil drums on some tabletop, no handles.
[00:39:37] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God.
[00:39:38] Ian Urbina: They put that in the water. They march the guys up knife point, say climb down, get on the raft. They cut the thing. Why they do it is partially, they don't want to, in this instance, they don't want to kill the guys because that just feels maybe a step further than they want to go, ethically.
[00:39:52] Jordan Harbinger: I would rather get killed than left out on the oceans of roast to death and dehydrate and then die. Thanks anyway.
[00:39:57] Ian Urbina: Well, these guys, and that's exactly what happened to one of the two. I mean, and so they cut them loose. There's a storm on the horizon. They were like about eight miles from land. So they thought, well, the currents will push them in the land, but we won't, we, the captain of the Dona Liberta, "We won't pay the fine for having rolled in with folks that aren't supposed to be on ship, because that's going to be a delay and a fine. And I might get fired, so I'm not going to take that heat for these guys. But on the other hand, I don't want to kill them. I don't want to slit their throat. So let's put them on a raft and hope for the best." So that's what they did with these guys. They drifted around.
[00:40:27] Jordan Harbinger: Oh.
[00:40:27] Ian Urbina: Those guys eventually washed up on Liberian shores. One of them died like within the hour and the other survived. And we ended up finding him and built a story around his story.
[00:40:36] Jordan Harbinger: That's truly terrible. Why does it cost money if you roll in? It seems like that's backwards. Hey, this guy stowed away on our ship. Maybe he gets arrested and deported, but not like, oh, now you have to pay for it. That seems dumb.
[00:40:50] Ian Urbina: Yeah, I mean, post 9/11, everyone, the world got scared, right? And around the same time, the anti-migrant thing was kicking up. And those two things together resulted in the port fronts being higher fences, more penalties if you roll in with folks that aren't supposed to be on your ship. So everyone was like super security conscious and the US pushed a lot of these rules on other ports. Because if you're going to let stuff come into our ports, we don't want a dirty bomb on there. We don't want undocumented immigrants on your ship. And you guys have to sweep your ship before you go to shore. And if you don't, you pay the price. So the fine structure went way up and that fine goes to companies. Companies drifts down, you know, puts the pressure on captains. Captain turns the crew. And when the ship's about to leave Cape Town, captain turns the crew and says, "It's coming out of your wage if you don't sweep this ship property."
[00:41:37] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:41:37] Ian Urbina: "And if there are any stowaways that pop up a week later, that's on you. So you guys better sweep the ship really well." These are huge ships. They're two football fields sized ships, so you can hide anywhere. And so guys slip through all the time. And then this is why people, everyone gets all scared that they're going to get hit with charges for illegal immigration. They're going to hit with fines.
[00:41:56] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God. I mean, ugh. I can understand the temptation to punch someone in the face if they stole away on your ship. Or feed them poorly, but I can't really, I can't justify letting them die a slow, painful death. I mean, look, they're economic migrants or something like that, I guess. But man, that just seems, it seems so backwards. I know that there are anti-stowaway companies that can take them off. How do these companies work? This is a very unique niche that, speaking of things you never know exist.
[00:42:25] Ian Urbina: Yeah. I mean, th those companies are hired by the wealthier shippers. And it's often built into maybe your high, your premium insurance package. And the insurance package says, "Okay, if we're going to insure you guys, you got to have this company sweep your ships whenever you roll into this list of ports because there's known stowaway activity." So then, these guys fly in and they handle the sweeping. But they also, more interestingly to me at least, is they handle the crisis management after if someone slips through. And what that means is these companies you call them, "Ah, someone snuck by, he's on my ship. What do I do?" Bossman calls the contractor. Contractor says, "I'll fly a couple guys who got language specialties to X and we'll meet you there." And those guys handle the stowaway. And they like know all the tricks of the trade. Because stowaway will do what all migrants will do, and you and I would do the same. You strip all your national identity, your name, anything, so that you can't be sent back home, they don't know where you're from.
[00:43:24] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:43:24] Ian Urbina: You then become an easier refugee if you can claim you're from Sudan, but you're actually from Liberia or whatever.
[00:43:30] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:43:30] Ian Urbina: So these companies come in and they try to troubleshoot the situation and they actually escort the stowaway to the airport and fly them all the way back home and they handle all the crisis so that ship can quicker get out of port and your company doesn't have to deal with it.
[00:43:43] Jordan Harbinger: If delays are that expensive. I would assume there's a whole sube economy out there of people who find ways to delay ships and basically extort them so they can go about their business. Is that a thing that happens?
[00:43:54] Ian Urbina: Spot on. Yeah. It's why you have a maritime repo industry. So delays all the way down to lockdowns are this true phenomena where huge number of ports are sort of rife with really corrupt, shady characters. And some of them are local judges and port officials. And um, they may hit you with some, you know, five-million-dollar fine because you bumped a pier and your ship's worth a million. You know, so they're like, "You're just trying to steal my ship through white collar means."
[00:44:18] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:19] Ian Urbina: And that's where you hire repo men and the repo men ca fly in and they start with kind of soft power. You know, they sit down and say, "Look, you know, can I get you a case of Jack Daniels and 20K. You know, let's work this out. This is kind of crazy." And if that doesn't work, then they do extractions. And that means they assemble a team and they basically steal the ship back out to sea and they steal it in the middle of the night. And I went on a couple of repos with these guys when they were doing just that, and it's pretty insane stuff.
[00:44:45] Jordan Harbinger: I would have a person like that on my show to talk about stealing, I mean, repossessing, lawfully ships. That would be a hell of a podcast, I think too. You know, anybody like that?
[00:44:54] Ian Urbina: I've got the guy for you.
[00:44:55] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:44:55] Ian Urbina: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, the guy is, yeah, Max Hardberger. His name literally is—
[00:45:00] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:45:00] Ian Urbina: Max Hardberger. He lives in a trailer in Alabama and he's an amazing interview. Yeah, so I'll send him your way.
[00:45:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that would be great. And it's so funny that he lives in a trailer in Alabama, but he's probably a millionaire from repossessing ships. But if he doesn't need a big house, always on the ocean.
[00:45:15] Ian Urbina: No, exactly. He's, he's a good old country boy, and he just likes a good time. And I think he's never got more than, you know, 2000 bucks in his account. He burns through the rest.
[00:45:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. The officials in corrupt country or corrupt officials delaying boats, how much does it cost to have, I don't know, a fishing boat, an oil tanker stuck in a port for a day that should already be gone with its load, do you know?
[00:45:37] Ian Urbina: Well, we're talking like, 20,000 to 50,000 a day if we're talking about a container ship.
[00:45:42] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:45:43] Ian Urbina: Ship that's got multi-million dollar cargo, so grain, oil, the contracts are often built with penalty structures for delays that are lofty. They're really because there's a spot market that predicts when the stuff arrived and when it gets on the market. And if you kick that back anyway, but the smaller ships, it's all relative, right? 20—
[00:46:03] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:46:03] Ian Urbina: —thousand a day to Maersk is pocket change, but 20,000 a day to a fishing vessel that could put the amount of business with a two-week delay.
[00:46:14] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Ian Urbina. We'll be right back.
[00:46:19] This episode is sponsored in part by Microsoft Clarity. It should be obvious to you that you need to understand your users if you want to develop a great product. To dive deep into how your product is being experienced, Microsoft Clarity is amazing. It's completely free. We set it up for our website and gained a ton of knowledge on where we can improve areas that require immediate attention. With Microsoft Clarity, you can view session replays to gain insights into what works and what's causing difficulties for your users. So basically, it's like a movie of somebody using your website. So it's a little video of like where they clicked, where they rolled to, where the mouse was, and what they were trying to click on that didn't work, all that stuff. Stuff that broke. You can look at heat maps to identify areas of high engagement. Elements that are overlooked. Rage clicks, like I said, where they're trying to click something and nothing's happened. Dead clicks, it shows the pain points of the site. It works with apps, it works with websites. Check out Clarity. Again, totally free, clarity.microsoft.com. Again, that's clarity.microsoft.com.
[00:47:15] This episode is sponsored in part by Airbnb. So we used to travel a lot for podcast interviews and conferences, and we love staying in Airbnbs because we often meet interesting people. And the stays are just more unique and fun. One of our favorite places to stay at in LA is with a sweet older couple whose kids been moved out. They have a granny flat in their backyard. We used to stay there all the time. We were regulars, always booking their Airbnb when we flew down for interviews. And we loved it because they'd leave a basket of snacks, sometimes a bottle of wine, even a little note for us, and they would leave us freshly baked banana bread because they knew that I liked it. And they even became listeners of this podcast, which is how they knew about the banana bread. So after our house was built, we decided to become hosts ourselves, turning one of our spare bedrooms into an Airbnb. Maybe you've stayed in an Airbnb before and thought to yourself, "Hey, if this seems pretty doable, maybe my place could be an Airbnb." It could be as simple as starting with a spare room or your whole place while you're away. You could be sitting on an Airbnb and not even know it. Perhaps you get a fantastic vacation plan for the balmy days of summer. As you're out there soaking up the sun and making memories, your house doesn't need to sit idle, turn it into an Airbnb, let it be a vacation home for somebody else. And picture this, your little one isn't so little anymore. They're headed off to college this fall, the echo in their now empty bedroom might be a little too much to bear. So whether you could use a little extra money to cover some bills or something a little more fun, your home might be worth more than you think. Find out how much at airbnb.com/host.
[00:48:39] This episode is also sponsored in part by Better Help. All right, we've all been there becoming everybody's favorite superhero, tackling their needs left and right, only to forget that even Superman needs his alone time in the fortress of solitude. Constant giving, tell me if this is you, can make us feel like an overused rubber band on the verge of snapping at any minute. Therapy equips you with tools to find equilibrium in life so you can continue being everyone's rock without turning into a ground up. I don't know the analogy falls apart, but you know what I mean. Got stress piled up like dirty laundry. A therapy session is like a superpowered washing machine helping you to de-stress, rinse out anxiety, spin out a much better version of yourself. If you're considering therapy, I urge you to try Better Help. It's all online. It's tailored for convenience, which I think is premium these days. All it takes is a brief questionnaire. You get paired pretty much right away with a licensed therapist. We're talking like 24 hours most. I think Jen needed 15 or 20 minutes before they paired her. It was so fast. And if you want to change switch at any time, no additional charge.
[00:49:35] Jen Harbinger: Find more balance with Better Help, visit betterhelp.com/jordan to get 10 percent off your first month. That's better-H-E-L-P.com/jordan.
[00:49:45] Jordan Harbinger: If you like this episode of the show, I invite you to do what other considerate and smart intelligent listeners do, and I'm sure you fall into that bucket. Take a moment and support one of our amazing sponsors. All the deals, discount codes, and ways to support the show are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can also ask our almost super smart AI chatbot than getting smarter every day AI chatbot on the website jordanharbinger.com/ai. Thanks for supporting those who support the show.
[00:50:11] Now for the rest of my conversation with Ian Urbina.
[00:50:16] So do people steal ships? I don't mean repossessing the ship. I mean actually hijacking the ship for ransom, like Somali pirates kind of, but actual ship theft where they use the boat. If it's open ocean and it's totally lawless, why not just steal a boat and then use it and make money with that for the rest of the life of the boat?
[00:50:34] Ian Urbina: So one, you know, lexicon issue, boat versus ship. A boat can go on a ship. A ship can't go on a boat. So that's the simple way to remember the two words. And so boats like cigarette liner yachts down in Florida are stolen to an insane degree. Most of the boat thefts in the US occur out of Florida and they're stolen for the sake of people moving in drug trafficking. And they get taken out of Florida down to the Caribbean or Columbia or wherever, and Venezuela. And so there's a lot of, in the US, boat thievery for a very specific purpose. Now, ship thievery, globally, yes, for sure happens. Often, it's various scenarios. One is, you know, off the coast of Nigeria, off the coast of Somalia, on the other side of the continent, they steal a large vessel and dual purpose it. One, they take the guys and all their goods, they ransom on the guys and sell the goods. But then they have a boat that's pretty strong and they use that as a mothership for quick hit. Other hits, you know, where they have smaller boats that are usually de-housed. These are fishing boats that are outboard motors. They're not real strong and powerful, and they can't hold a lot of fuel. So now they have a base of operations because they stole some big fishing vessel and they park it way out there in the avenue. Then, they live there and then they have a bunch of small boats, and when they see folks rolling through their neighborhood, if you will, they jump in the small boats and they chase the guys. And then if they catch them, then they got another mothership or they've got something to ransom.
[00:52:01] Jordan Harbinger: That is wild. Are the ships to go fishing or is it like we're just stealing it for ransom?
[00:52:06] Ian Urbina: Maybe they do somewhere in the world. Not that I know of. I don't know any stories.
[00:52:09] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. I was just curious.
[00:52:10] Ian Urbina: Yeah.
[00:52:10] Jordan Harbinger: Because it just seems to me if you can steal anything and use it with impunity and no one's going to come after you, I'm stealing a fishing boat and then I'm going to enslave a crew because why pay for anything? Right?
[00:52:19] Ian Urbina: Yeah. I mean the scenario where fishing boats might get stolen are, are more your white collar scenario where an amazing fishing vessel comes into dock, it unloads its cargo. Your cousin's the local judge, and your brother is the port captain. You scheme up some scenario to lock it down. You bankrupt those guys, you kick him out of your country, and then, now, you officially can flip that ship, resell it for 50 bucks, and now your brother's got a kickass, you know, fishing vessel.
[00:52:46] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:52:46] Ian Urbina: And maybe he knows how to fish, but that's like a triple bank shot in pool.
[00:52:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:52:50] Ian Urbina: There are a lot of easier straight shots, if you will.
[00:52:52] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. One thing that amazed me was some companies just abandoning entire boats and ships, sometimes even with the crew aboard because the company goes bankrupt. Or how is that possible? How do you just go, "Hey, we don't have enough fuel to get you home. Uh, good luck guys, and they're floating," how is that possible?
[00:53:09] Ian Urbina: It's a huge problem. It's a slow motion, crime and tragedy, and so it gets very little coverage considering how common it is. Because the crime is against the guys on board.
[00:53:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:53:19] Ian Urbina: They're stuck there. They have no way to get off. They have no way to get home. They don't have papers. They don't have cell reception anymore. Their family thinks they're dead.
[00:53:25] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:53:25] Ian Urbina: They're gone for a year and they're stuck. They don't have food, water. It's serious. Guys die, go crazy. How it happens is you're an owner of a fleet and one of your fleet, you know, is old. It's barely going to make it another year. It's not covering its costs, right? You're upkeeping your repairs or outweighing its catch. And then, something happens, the final thing breaks, you know, and your mechanic says, that's going to cost more than the ship is worth.
[00:53:50] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:53:50] Ian Urbina: And that's when you make a calculation or someone sues you and you're like, "Oh, wow, we're going to, we need to declare bankruptcy and walk away." Or someone buys you and you're like, "Okay, we need to sell it." And then the new guy comes in and he is a cutthroat and he is like, "Ah, I'm just going to cut. I'm not even going to play with those dudes anymore. The fifth ship, we're just going to leave it wherever it is. Fiji, I don't care, walk away from it." And so because of the way that maritime works and the way that ownership structures are sell, you know, are sort of a Russian doll, you know, it's like shells upon shells upon shells. It's sort of a paperwork exercise to disconnect yourself with the ownership. And it's not that hard to just sort of dump it wherever it is and walk away. And if they're guys on board, you dump them too. And that's when they are desperate.
[00:54:33] Jordan Harbinger: So what do they do? Are they literally out at sea and they're just stuck there?
[00:54:37] Ian Urbina: Usually, they're close to shore. You know, most of these cases happen, well, they pop up on my radar or the radar of all these seafarer do-gooder organizations, mission seafarers—
[00:54:48] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:54:49] Ian Urbina: —when they get near to shore, but oftentimes that's because the guy who's running the ship and his crew of 20, he's calling and they're not picking up the phone and he is like, "Hey, where are we supposed to go next? This such and such broke, what do you want us to do about it? Which port should we take it in? Are you going to free up the budget to get it fixed, et cetera?" And no one's answering their calls.
[00:55:06] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:55:06] Ian Urbina: So time passes, rations drop, fuel drops, he starts having to make decisions on his own. And he's like, we got to get out of the sea and get near nearshore even if we can't get all the way in port. So they come five, six, 12 miles from shore and drop anchor because it's a little bit safer, right, for them. They can't get off the ship because they don't have papers. So usually, when these cases pop up, they're right near shore but in some god forsaken place where no one's really willing to help them. And that's when the network of folks who troubleshoot these cases get involved, raise the money, fly the guys home, get the government to play ball. But the companies just are long since gone and walk away.
[00:55:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I can't even imagine. Because I would, I mean, if I could see land, I would just, at some point I have to jump off the boat, right? I'm dehydrated, I'm starving to death. There's rats everywhere, whatever, or maybe I ate them all. I'm not even trying to be funny. I mean, I guess that's what you do, right?
[00:55:55] Ian Urbina: Yeah.
[00:55:55] Jordan Harbinger: And you just try to swim for it. Oh, it's so horrible.
[00:55:59] Ian Urbina: People do that. Yeah, it's not rare to hear cases of drowning and they were 500 meters from shore because they don't know how to swim. And they got so desperate, they just jumped over and tried to flail their way.
[00:56:07] Jordan Harbinger: That's truly horrible. A lot of this is truly horrible. And people think, oh, in the intro when you said this is the bottom of humanity. Some people thought I was exaggerating, but this is what I'm talking about. I mean, this is just really, really disgusting. The sea slavery stuff really disturbing as we talked about before. How do those people get recruited for this? Do you know how they end up on the boat? What happens before they end up on the boat, I guess, is what I'm asking you.
[00:56:29] Ian Urbina: A typical story, and not to beat up on the South China Sea or Thailand, but imagine this model wherever, right? So in the case of that area, you've got Thailand, which is a middle-class country, less than two percent unemployment, and it's surrounded by a bunch of countries that are a wreck, right? So Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, much poorer countries, often serious ethnic violence. So now, you're 22-year-old guy who lives in some village in Cambodia. You don't know anything about how you might feed your three siblings. The rice patties aren't doing it for you. And you meet someone one day at some whatever festival or at the local bar and he is like, "Look, I can get you a job in Thailand, in construction." Okay, now you light up. because you know construction can pay and especially Thai wages you could earn in a year enough to keep your family afloat for five years. So you're like, "Yeah, it sounds great, but I don't have any money to get into Thailand." He's like, "Don't worry about that. Meet me on this location on Sunday, et cetera, and just become ready." You jump in the back of the truck, you show up on Sunday, you start this long journey illicitly across the border. He pays off that guy at the border, he pays off the next guy. Suddenly, two weeks later you got maybe 20 other guys with you in the truck and now, you're at the port and you're wondering where's the construction job. Next thing you know, those guys are muscled up. They got guns. You saw them beat up some dude in front of you the other night, they're not messing around. And they say, get on the vessel.
[00:57:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:57:49] Ian Urbina: And you get on the vessel and off you go to sea. That is a very typical story. You thought you were going in for one thing, you willingly signed on, you were going to be debt bonded in the first place, and now you're just captive and debt debonded, and off you go. And next thing you know, you're there for two years.
[00:58:03] Jordan Harbinger: This is the kind of the story of all human trafficking, right? You reply to a job ad, you show up, and you end up working in a scam call center or on a boat. And you're just like, "I thought I was going to be a tour guide for," or, "I thought I was going to be building houses," or whatever. Oh man.
[00:58:18] Ian Urbina: A nanny.
[00:58:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, a nanny.
[00:58:19] Ian Urbina: The women in these cases are like, look, you can be a domestic. You're cleaning houses and taking care of the kids. No, no. You're going to a brothel and you're not going to realize that to two weeks in. And you're a little small villager, you're not savvy to the ways of the world. You're not watching TV and surfing the Internet and learning these stories. So you're just like, oh, that sounds good.
[00:58:35] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:58:35] Ian Urbina: And all if you go, and next thing you know, you're in some horrible place.
[00:58:38] Jordan Harbinger: I heard that the karaoke bars/brothels have some weird role where guys get into debt and they're kind of living there. Tell me about that.
[00:58:45] Ian Urbina: Yeah, so Ranong went to this border town in Thailand, right along the border and yeah, very dark, kind of ring of hell where the karaoke bars, which are downstairs a bar and upstairs at brothel are all worked by the very migrants that have been trafficked. And the women and girls, and a lot of them are girls, like 12-year-olds—
[00:59:06] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:59:06] Ian Urbina: —girls—
[00:59:07] Jordan Harbinger: Gross.
[00:59:07] Ian Urbina: —are upstairs. And the men who are from the same villages often are sort of told to stay there because the truck is leaving in three days to just kill some time. What they don't realize is that the carousing at the bar and partaking of the girls is running up a tab. They thought it was sort of a, I don't know, a freebie, you know?
[00:59:27] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm
[00:59:28] Ian Urbina: Or maybe she liked me or whatever. There was no money exchanged. They didn't realize this was transactional. Lo and behold, they find out, maybe, you know, when they get to the port that, "Oh, by the way, you owe X amount," which is like six months of wages because of what you did at the brothel. And the girls are there against their will, and the guys are there against their will and they're being leveraged against each other to sort of be entrapped, both of them even deeper. It's really dark.
[00:59:53] Jordan Harbinger: That's super dark. Oh my God, that's really, truly awful. Tell me about these prison islands. This is something that I hadn't quite, again, let's dive deeper into the dark side of, I mean, this is even worse. And I feel bad I'm taking people down this journey, but I think it's important people know about this stuff because we're eating cheap seafood because of this.
[01:00:11] Ian Urbina: Okay, so the seminal work on prison islands is really done by the AP. They won a Pulitzer for it. And sort of the name that people know is a place called Benjina. And it was known before by journalists that a common tactic for ensuring that your labor doesn't run away is to drop them off on an atoll or some obscure island. Maybe you got guys there who will keep an eye on those workers, maybe you don't, but it's so remote that they're not going anywhere. But you drop them off because maybe you have to bring the port into a bigger city dock and you don't want to run the risk, you got to fix something, the captain wants a night out at the brothel, whatever. But you don't want to bring all your workers into port because you might lose them. You drop them off on one of these islands. Benjina was one of those islands and AP found it and revealed, you know, these guys were in actual prison cells on this island that is not a state-run facility. These were captive workers who were being held there so that they could be redeployed on other vessels from the same company or dispatch. So again, these things are hard to believe that they exist, but they exist.
[01:01:13] Jordan Harbinger: So essentially, you drop your crew off in the middle of nowhere on a deserted island, and somebody's feeding them and giving them water while you take the boat into the situation where these guys might have escaped, and at that point they're glad to get back on the boat because otherwise, they're going to rot to death on this deserted island. Oh my God.
[01:01:29] Ian Urbina: Yeah.
[01:01:30] Jordan Harbinger: I was going to ask about oil dumping and dumping waste, you know, cruise lines and things like that. That's not even the appetizer for what we're talking about with the slavery and the depravity here.
[01:01:41] Ian Urbina: Yeah, the human stuff is pretty intense. Again, the seafarer abandonment, the slow motion mental health, like ruin of that stuff, not to mention the acute like murder and rape and slavery—
[01:01:54] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:01:54] Ian Urbina: —is shocking. And again, these crimes often hand in glove connect in that, you know, a lot of the vessels that are engaging in the most egregious and repeat illegal fishing. Also just happened to be engaged in these other things. Why? Because of the finances. They're cutting corners. It's not, because I mean, yeah, there might be evil people out there, but that's not motivation enough or sustainable. It's really like an economic reality which requires end-of-life vessels and companies to try to cut corners extra deep. And this is what that looks like.
[01:02:25] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me about the cruise line, the magic pipe. Tell me about magic pipes.
[01:02:30] Ian Urbina: The magic pipe is a term to refer to what, in essence, is sort of a tube that goes from here to there in the engine room. Oftentimes, they may be four or five feet long and it's a redirect, right? So the really dirty stuff on a ship is the sludge. It's the sediment that remains from the dirty oil that ships use black oil, and it's gray water, poop and pee and food mass.
[01:02:57] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:02:57] Ian Urbina: All that stuff condenses down into this nasty stuff that you cannot dump at sea. It's really toxic and you have to hold onto it and bring it back to a processing plant on shore, but that takes time, it costs a lot of money, et cetera. So the way to deal with that is run a magic pipe. And a magic pipe essentially redirects that stuff out of the container, out of the storage tank into the bottom of the ocean. And so it's like a hidden pipe underneath the vessel and you just flush it and you're flushing it as you go. More ships dump intentionally. A lot of ink has been spread on the BP and the Exxon Valdez spills. You know, those are accidents.
[01:03:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:03:35] Ian Urbina: Terrible accidents and avoidable accidents, but intentional dumping of oil is more than the Valdez and the BP spill combined. Every three years, ships globally intentionally dump more oil than those two spills combined. So it's a really deep overlooked problem.
[01:03:51] Jordan Harbinger: I didn't realize the quantity. Was that high? And I suppose we find out about this from whistleblowers who go, why is there a pipe that goes from this down to here when it's supposed to be in this holding tank? Or why is our holding tank empty? We've been at sea for a month, that kind of thing.
[01:04:04] Ian Urbina: Yeah. Whistleblowers onboard. And then also satellite whizzbang. You know, there's a amazing outfit called Sky Truth that's pioneered this stuff. And they're looking using satellites to look at streaks on the ocean. These streaks that are left behind the ships can show up on satellites and they last for 40 miles. And if you know what you're doing, you can figure out, wait, so that streak lasts for 40 miles? What ships were on that trajectory 20 hours ago? And then they connect the dots and like, okay, that ship caused that streak and that streak is not an accident. That's them dumping. Now, let's figure out how we can catch up with that ship. And that's the other way that these guys get caught sometimes.
[01:04:39] Jordan Harbinger: It's just crazy. It seems like it's not just about the economy though. I know that South China sea fishing has some sort of political sea claim kind of thing going on. In the last sort of five minutes, can you tell us about that a little bit?
[01:04:51] Ian Urbina: Yeah. I mean, you know, a lot of places on the planet, again, for the reasons we talked about before, like the sea and the high seas especially are this weird space where it's not clear who owns them and who polices them. And some places that are national waters from the shore to 200 out are claimed. But there are a lot of places where different countries claim the same territory. And so in the case of the South China Sea, one of the hottest zones around a bunch of different countries have claimed certain patches and certain atolls, certain little plops of land. And so it's a real contested area, and China's the big dog in that area and so big that they are building islands. You know, like if you have an island that is yours, you now have the ocean 200 miles out from it. So if you plop an island out in one spot that's connected, then you've just expanded your, it's a, you know, kind of territorial expansion. So on the South China Sea, you've got a lot of ships staring each other down and blocking each other, and often that those fights play out with fishing vessels. So there's proxy fights between big nations that are happening in clashes between fishing vessels.
[01:05:55] Jordan Harbinger: That, to me, shouldn't be surprising after everything we've just talked about. But it does seem odd that you can be like, "Well, we fish here, so this is now our territory," even though the map says differently.
[01:06:06] Ian Urbina: Yeah, I mean, maps are based in time, right? So when are you going to start your legal story? You're a lawyer, so you know this, like precedent.
[01:06:12] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:06:12] Ian Urbina: So if you're like, "Look, we've got historical precedent going back 200 years. My guys have been fishing this. So there's possessions, not against the law, and we've been possessing this zone for a long time. So it's really ours." And that's creating facts on the ground what various countries are trying to do, especially China these days. And the more recent players are like, "No, no, no, we've been here for the last 40 years." And they're like, "It doesn't matter. We've been here for the last 600." And you're like, "Yeah, but not actually fishing." In the South China Sea, you have 250 Chinese fishing vessels. They don't fish, they never put nets in the water. They're paid by the Chinese government to occupy. And they're fishing vessels officially, but they're civilian militia vessels and they're just trying to create precedent.
[01:06:48] Jordan Harbinger: Look, people are going to ask me, and I know you got to go. Is there any way for us to avoid seafood that is caught using slavery or crazy environmental violations? I've heard of greenwashing where they put the seal on, but they just made the organization and gave themselves the award for a clean, sustainable seafood. We know that's bullsh*t. Is there anything that's not?
[01:07:07] Ian Urbina: Yes and no is my best answer. I think that there's a spectrum, and to move closer towards the better end would be to say, I think seafood that's caught processed locally is always going to be a safer bet, not because we're superior in our ethics.
[01:07:21] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:07:21] Ian Urbina: But because the longer that supply chain gets, the murkier it gets and the less accountability there is in it. So it might be more expensive, but it's probably going to be less likely to have all these crimes in it.
[01:07:32] Jordan Harbinger: Ian Urbina, thank you very much, man. I really appreciate your time. And you've definitely done the firsthand research, so I appreciate that. I think a lot of us do, and I'm sure you've got some smells that you still can't get rid of from as a result of that research.
[01:07:46] Ian Urbina: In my very core. Yeah, thank you so much.
[01:07:51] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, here's what you can check out next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:07:58] You're in Somalia trying to track down pirate gangs and I'd love to kind of hear what this felt like.
[01:08:04] Michael Scott Moore: We went with the big security team and we paid the security team and a lot of money and it was this one portion of a clan in Central Somalia that was supposed to protect us.
[01:08:15] Jordan Harbinger: So how did they get you?
[01:08:17] Michael Scott Moore: My partner, Ashwin flew off to Mogadishu. I drove him to the airport and then we saw him off. He got on the plane safely and then on the way back from the airport back into town towards our hotel, there was actually a truck waiting for us. It was a truck with a cannon welded in the back. These are very common trucks. They're called technicals. At first, we thought it was there to watch over us or protect us or something, but actually it stopped our car and 12 gunmen from the flatbed came over to my side of the car. And they actually fired in the air and then opened the door and tore me out of the car. They were waiting for me and they were probably waiting or hoping for both of us.
[01:08:52] I think they were a little bit disappointed that there was only one journalist. They beat me, they broke my glasses and I was wearing glasses at the time, and they had another car waiting and they bundled me into it. And off we drove into the bush for about three hours, something like that. Hard to keep track of time, but at some point, we stopped. They blindfolded me and they took me a few steps over to a mattress. So there was a mattress waiting for me in the middle of nowhere. There were other people there, other guards and other hostages, and I sat down. And for the next two years and eight months, I was a hostage.
[01:09:25] Jordan Harbinger: For more on life and captivity under the thumb of Somali pirates and how he made it out, check out episode 115 with Michael Scott Moore here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:09:37] Before I forget, the ship flagging shipping episode, other crime on the high seas episode was episode 739. The greenwashing episode that I mentioned earlier in the show was episode 599.
[01:09:48] Man, so much we didn't even get to. I heard about shark thinning. I know that Ian has done work on this. Really gross, the amount of sharks that die as a result, the effect on the ecosystem. Something like 90 million dead sharks per year because this superstitious bullsh*t. Really disappointing. Come on, humanity. Get it together.
[01:10:05] And the sailors that die out there, or slaves that die out there, antiquated laws, limit damages for dead sailors because when the laws were drafted hundreds of years ago, in some cases, death at sea, it was seen as an act of God. So it was unavoidable. The shipping company couldn't possibly be held liable. It's an act of God. It's not because they have no safety equipment. They're being worked to the bone, they have no proper food, medical care, et cetera. It couldn't be that. It's got to be an act of God. So nowadays, obviously, we have tons of safety equipment and procedures. So if companies don't follow them, they should definitely be held liable. But lo and behold, governments are not really keen on catching up because having no laws and having no jurisdiction, it's kind of a convenient way to wash your hands of the whole thing.
[01:10:49] A lot of ship scams, lot of fraud. We talked about that in episode 739, which I mentioned. That's Matthew Campbell. Insurance fraud, lot of sea-based fraud, fake scuttling where you destroy your own ship, fuel scams, stealing ships. I'm going to be doing a show in a few months here with a guy who steals ships for a living. That's going to be pretty damn interesting. I promise you that.
[01:11:09] Unfortunately, here a lot of the slavery stuff, I just don't see a positive outcome happening with this. A lot of times the slaves are rescued by police and then sold to another captain because they can and they can make money, and they're rescued by police in a country that also doesn't value human life and they're not from that country. It's just a huge shame. Some of the slaves that Ian talks about in the book had crazy medical ailments. Stuff you haven't seen mostly in modern history or stuff you can only get when there's 30 people in a space for six guys eating gruel every day and don't get proper medical care with tons of pests on the ship. I mean, just really, really disgusting stuff that I won't go into here. A lot of you eat when you listen to the show. We just don't need that level of detail. Just imagine what it's like on a boat with sick people, no hygiene, not enough water. Just close your eyes and imagine the smell. Ugh.
[01:12:04] But at the end of the day, we're all a little complicit, right? Because a lot of what these shady companies do is help international customers like you and me put food on our plate. Slave labor, unfair contracts on the open sea's result in us getting our cheap ass tuna and sushi. And it's all plausible deniability for those further up the supply chain. So keep that in mind. Look, I love sushi, I love fish, but it is hard to eat that stuff without thinking and wondering what poor SOB had to catch it. And I like to think I'm paying for sustainable stuff, but you just never know.
[01:12:39] All things Ian Urbina will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com or just ask our AI chatbot. Transcripts in the show notes. Advertisers, deals, discount codes, ways to support this show, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. I've said it once, but I'll say it again. Please consider supporting those who support this show.
[01:12:57] And yes, newsletter, many of you have given me great feedback. We've used it to modify the newsletter. It's an evolving project. I'm loving doing it so far. I take some of the most popular episodes of the show going all the way back, years and years, and I will grab the best takeaways from that, reanalyze the episode, and deliver it in a few paragraphs, jordanharbinger.com/news. I would love your feedback on that. Don't forget about Six-Minute Networking as well. Also at jordanharbinger.com/course. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram or connect with me right there on LinkedIn.
[01:13:27] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. If you know somebody who's into international crime, shipping, high seas stuff, boats, whatever, share this episode with them. In the meantime, I hope you apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you learn, and we'll see you next time.
[01:14:01] This episode is sponsored in part by BackBeat Media. Introducing the BackBeat Media Podcast Network, where a wide variety of captivating shows are brought to life. For Apple enthusiasts, the CultCast provides, that's a great name, provides the latest tech news while Bookworm serves avid readers with discussions on applying lessons from literature. BroadwayRadio caters to those who love all things theater. While Mac Geek Gab and Maccast offer insights for Mac users of all skill levels. Late Night Linux uncovers the world of free and open-source software. And Jughead's Basement takes listeners on a journey through the vibrant punk scene. Dinosaur enthusiasts can delve into prehistoric times with I Know Dino. The network shows are diverse, they're entertaining. Christina Warren and Brett Terpstra chat about everything from tech news to pop culture. While Fig and Repete share hilarious aviation tales, make aviation fun again, I guess. Small business owners can benefit from real-world advice shared weekly by Dave Hamilton and Shannon Jean. With quality content that caters to a broad range of interests, BackBeat Media keeps listeners returning week after week. Visit backbeatmedia.com to explore their shows today.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.