There is a high chance that you are reading this on some sort of screen that arrived in your country in a container, or box, having been shipped across the oceans of the world to the high street shop of your choice. The ship that brought it was one of 40,000 that ply the world’s oceans carrying 80% of everything you purchase and 90% of the energy that you consume.
This huge global business is safely out of sight and out of mind; you’ve probably never even thought about it.
To find out about this secret behemoth, George has travelled the across the seas on container ships and naval vessels, talking to officers, crew, engineers, chaplains and dockworkers to see if she can scratch the surface of it. It is an industry that deliberately chooses opaqueness; ship owners sail under flags of convenience, regulation is scant and rarely enforced and the law seems not to apply at sea. She speaks to those who track some of the 10,000 containers that fall overboard each year, environmentalists who are trying to tell us just how polluting the ships are and goes to Somalia to see the modern pirates being tried.
In this book George concentrates more on the effects of the shipping industry, both positive and negative, considers the challenges that it faces as costs are driven down and the implications of further changes to come. Rightly so, she gets angry about lots of things, pirates, the scant respect of the law and the conditions that some crews have to suffer. This is an industry that uses the flag of convenience to escape taxes, responsibility for environmental disasters and has no desire to change at the moment, but she does get drawn into the almost romantic notion of ploughing the oceans bringing goods from faraway places. It is a good companion book to Down To The Sea With Ships by Horatio Clare. 3.5 stars