This true-life crime novel, ‘Catching Thunder: The Story of the World’s Longest Sea Chase’, is the dramatic account of Sea Shepherd’s 110-day long international pursuit of the pirate fishing vessel Thunder.
Sea Shepherd is a group of activists committed to fighting illegal fishing led by the Swedish-American captain, Peter Hammarstedt. Their ship Bob Barker is trawling around for the ‘Bandit 6’, a list of six vessels fishing illegally in the Southern Ocean. At the start of their adventure, they come across Thunder, a vessel with an INTERPOL purple notice, and wanted by several governments around the world. This is the start of the ever-longest chase at sea, lasting 110 days, and crossing three oceans. Behind the scenes, INTERPOL and various countries’ fisheries management watch the chase, collaborating with Sea Shepherd in unconventional ways behind closed doors.
The book takes us from the once state of the art fishing vessel’s birth in 1969 in Ulsteinvik, Norway, across the oceans, and to Galicia, Spain, where unscrupulous mafias have specialised in the illegal fishing and whitewashing of Patagonian tooth fish, a lucrative species of cod icefish also named the “white gold of the ocean”. A criminal business extending across several jurisdictions, and including a web of tax havens, insurance companies, and ship registries, facilitates this lucrative poaching.
The product of a three year investigation taking them to four continents, the Norwegian investigative journalists Eskil Engdal and Kjetil Sæter, have produced a book which is both a page-turner and a highly impressive documentary account of their work.
Chilling in places, with many situations hovering on the edge of extreme danger, one admires Sea Shepherd but also yells at them for the reckless peril they subject themselves to. Hammarstedt knows that the world and their donors are watching, and giving up is no option. This is both bravery and stupidity, but in the end a deep passion for protecting the oceans wins through, one that is hard to disagree with.
The book depicts how the international system fighting illegal fishing still has a long way to go if it effectively wants to get rid of the mafias out there, who are exploiting valuable ocean resources. In a really exciting fashion, the book highlights the problem of illegal fishing that has profound impact on communities across the world, but is largely unknown to the majority of people.
The takeaway is that combating environmental crime requires greater international cooperation than is the case today, and meanwhile, environmental NGOs are filling the enforcement vacuum left by inadequate government action. They take great risks to do so, risks that should not be required.
Catching Thunder will be out in English in March this year.