at Blue Sky, 1231 NW Hoyt, through May
I n his new book, The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime, William Langewiesche (author of the awe-inspiring 9/11 recap American Ground) focuses on the what is arguably the pre-eminent force of our natural existence: the ocean. He points out that for those of us who've never crossed an ocean, our idea of its size is somewhat limited, simply because its reach is unfathomable. The Indian Ocean, he points out, is seven times the size of the US. The Atlantic is roughly the size of all the Continents combined, while the Pacific is double that. He says, "At a time when every last patch of land is claimed by one government or another, and when citizenship is treated as an absolute condition of human existence, the ocean is a realm that remains radically free."
Langewiesche investigates the types of issues that arise from a massive, ungovernable seascape, among them the familiar and ancient problems of accidents and piracy, as well as the new threat of international terrorism. It is terrorism that's the most frightening, as Langewiesche describes the ease in which a massive bomb, even a nuclear weapon, could be delivered with precision to any US port.
Meanwhile, old and dilapidated crafts are sailing around the world regularly, having easily passed documentation from some jurisdiction. For instance, the Erika--a "smallish tanker"--passed port state inspections in the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, and Italy, as well as that of a French oil company, before it broke in half in a storm. 22,000 pounds of "sludge-like fuel" made their way to French beaches.
In typical fashion, Langewiesche covers these subjects thoroughly. His writing is intelligent and complex, but straightforward. He always steers away from any kind of emotion, and usually breaks a situation down to the participant's physical strength and presence of mind. It's only when he describes the tragedy of the Estonia, an Estonian ferry that sank quickly in 1994, killing 852 people, that his detached, rational tone takes a brief detour into the theatrical. Unfazed by the massive power and drama of the sea itself, it is when human lives are involved that the heart behind Langewiesche's brilliant investigative mind emerges. M. WILLIAM HELFRICH