2023 Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling, Limited Series winner

The Outlaw Ocean Podcast

About the Project

Few places on the planet are as lawless as the high seas and over the past eight years, Ian Urbina has gone to unusual lengths and at no small risk — reporting from seven oceans and 36 countries — to unveil a world that most of us did not know existed. This seven-part podcast series, The Outlaw Ocean, chronicles the laws, lore and lifestyles of a hidden realm populated by traffickers, mercenaries, wreck thieves and repo men, vigilante conservationists and elusive poachers, oil-dumpers, shackled slaves and cast-adrift stowaways. Through their stories of astonishing courage and brutality, the series uncovers a globe-spanning network of crime and exploitation on the high seas: men shackled like chattel on fishing vessels; a doctor who ferries desperate women to international waters to perform otherwise illegal abortions; the racing pursuit of Interpol’s most notorious maritime scofflaws.

The result is a groundbreaking podcast series that harnesses Urbina’s decades as an investigative journalist and explains, with clarity and nuance, certain urgent truths: Little is ever done about the thousands of seafarers, fishermen and sea migrants who die under suspicious circumstances annually because no one is required, nor is there any system, to report violent crimes or missing people in international waters. The majority of ships circumventing the globe are unregistered and exempt from most international labor protections. The modern flagging system provides more cover than oversight of the unscrupulous. What few laws apply at sea are weak, contradictory and easily skirted by criminals. Most governments have neither the inclination nor the resources to enforce them. Environmental crimes go unchecked as ships intentionally dump more oil into the ocean every three years than the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spills combined.

Judges Comments

This podcast was produced in a way where each episode was a unique voyage and made for a very experiential journey right from the first photo the host described in the opening scene through the illegal fishing boats he was on.