That cheap big screen TV that hangs on your family room wall, the workout togs and Nike sneakers you lounge in while enjoying some fresh guacamole while taking in the football game; not many folks would be bothered with the second thought of how it all got there. Much of what we buy, own and consume arrived on store shelves via the seemingly seamless shipping industry.
It is that closely guarded industry the author Rose George scratches the surface of in her new book, Ninety Percent of Everything – Inside Shipping, The Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas In Your Car, and Food on Your Plate. Maritime shipping is a surprising insular industry; tightly held, almost secretive in nature and shrouded in intriguing set of rules and standards that would leave the average person scratching their heads in wonder.
George manages to just barely break the surface of this huge, global industry, but not for a lack of trying. She spent 39 days aboard the Maersk owned ship, Kendal; along the way hitting six ports, two oceans, five seas and while living in what can only be described as a hostile environment with a tight-lipped Captain and crew offering little in the way of real insight into the industry.
While some with a deep interest in the shipping industry may be disappointed with George’s treatise, I think the average person, myself included, will be fascinated and staggered by some the sheer numbers she details throughout the book. She rightly points out that by in large most people give nary a thought to this massive enterprise. She cites the very true example early in the book of the world’s and media’s fascination with 39 Chilean miners being trapped underground and the heroic efforts to rescue them; while two dozen sailors aboard the MV Iceberg were held hostage by pirates for over 1000 days and received little if any notice.
George certainly raise the question, but I am not certain she managed to find the answer, what would drive these men and women to work in the very necessary jobs in some of the most inhospitable working conditions, up against, often hostile leadership, the risk of pirates and the natural dangers of life at sea. It will and should get you to give consideration to that opening question; How did this all get here?