NINETY PERCENT OF EVERYTHING
On ship-tracking websites, the waters are black with dots. Each dot is a ship; each ship is laden with boxes; each box is laden with goods. In postindustrial economies, we no longer produce but buy. We buy, so we must ship. Without shipping there would be no clothes, food, paper, or fuel. Without all those dots, the world would not work.
Freight shipping has been no less revolutionary than the printing press or the Internet, yet it is all but invisible. Away from public scrutiny, shipping uses a shady system of “flags of convenience;” though it is the greenest form of mass transport, its fuel emissions put it on a par with Germany. And then there are the pirates.
For Ninety Percent, I set sail from Felixstowe through Suez to Singapore on a ship the length of three football fields and the height of Niagara Falls; I boarded a Portuguese frigate doing anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean; I went to Cape Cod to understand why manmade noise from shipping is damaging whales, mammals, fish and the ocean; and I met seafaring chaplains seeking to defend the often-neglected rights of the 1.5 million seafarers who bring us ninety percent of everything, for little gratitude.
Ninety Percent of Everything is the US title: in the UK it is published as Deep Sea and Foreign Going.