The Outlaw Ocean podcast sheds light on one of the few remaining frontiers on our planet: the world’s oceans. It looks into a gritty and lawless realm rarely seen, populated by 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.
Relying on more than eight years of reporting at sea on all seven oceans and more than three dozen countries, the podcast brings all of it together into an immersive audio documentary series.
The latest episode, episode 4 – ‘From The Sea, Freedom’, explains how the high seas have become a metaphor for freedom, an escape from governments, laws and other people. The episode explores the world of libertarian-minded endeavors at sea, where renegades and mavericks of all sorts seek to escape the laws of land-bound nation-states.
For this idea, Sealand is a perfect example. A ‘micronation’ on an eerie metal platform a few miles off the coast of England into the North Sea, Sealand was an abandoned British anti-aircraft platform. On Christmas Eve of 1966, Paddy Roy Bates, a retired British army major, drove a small boat, used a grappling hook and rope, clambered onto the abandoned platform, declared it conquered and deemed it a gift for his wife, Joan.
Later, Roy announced the establishment of the new nation of Sealand. The motto of the country over which he reigned was E Mare, Libertas, or “From the sea, freedom.” Constituted as a principality, Sealand had its own passport, coat of arms, and flag—red and black, with a white diagonal stripe. Its currency was the Sealand dollar, bearing Joan’s image.
It was not a luxury palace. Built in the early 1940s as one of five forts that defended the Thames, the place was little more than a wide deck about the size of two tennis courts set atop two hollow, concrete towers, 60 feet above the ocean.
The improbable creation story of the world’s tiniest maritime nation was a thumb in the eye of international law. Though no country formally recognises Sealand, its sovereignty has been hard to deny. The reason goes back to the first principles of sovereignty: A country’s ability to enforce its laws extends only as far as its borders. Roy appeared to be operating legally or at least opportunistically within a legal void.
The reporting also visits the high seas near Mexico to meet other characters who leverage the freedom and legal gray area found offshore. Travel with Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of Women on Waves, a group that provides abortion access for women who live in countries where it is restricted. Secretly carrying several Mexican women beyond national waters, Rebecca uses a loophole in maritime law to legally administer pills that will end their pregnancies.
You can’t find two organizations and two people that are more different than Sealand and Women on Waves or Roy Bates and Rebecca Gomperts. But The Outlaw Ocean Project, a non-profit journalism organization based in Washington D.C, followed their stories to show what they have in common: taking advantage of the freedom of the seas to do what they want.
These two stories are told in detail in the fourth episode of The Outlaw Ocean podcast, from CBC Podcasts and the L.A. Times.
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