Review: ‘Dead in the Water,’ by Matthew Campbell & Kit Chellel

This system serves to keep the industry rich and protected, but also offers opportunities for the unscrupulous, in this case a colorful Greek magnate named Marios Iliopoulos, the owner of the brilliant, who is said to have orchestrated the hijacking and destruction of his own ship. The authors paint a vivid portrait of the man who raced under the name “Super Mario” and terrorized a British courtroom after being briefly arrested and questioned in London, “with the swagger of a professional wrestler approaching the ring his unshaven features contorted into a scowl, arms swinging at his sides, shirt open over his big belly.”

Mockett’s death gives the book a strong emotional center and establishes its central conflict, which is less between the corrupt shipowner and the authorities than between London’s elite insurance lawyers, whose primary goal is to mitigate claims for their clients, and two consulting investigators. Richard Veale and Michael Conner, both former police officers who want justice.

True stories usually have messier endings than we’d like. With civil war raging in Yemen and difficulty getting through local officials in Aden, detectives can’t find Mockett’s killers or even who ordered the murder, although the facts point in a clear direction. And while the detectives gather enough witnesses and evidence to prove that Iliopoulos orchestrated the “kidnapping,” he amazingly escapes not only criminal but financial consequences.

“In the confusing underworld of insurance law, the owner of a wrecked ship was not the only one who could claim damages from Lloyd’s. Instead, an owner’s claim could be “assigned” to another entity that suffered a loss in the ship’s destruction.” The authors conclude that the shipowner was “at least tens of millions of dollars better off.”

Sorting all of this might not have been easy. Campbell and Chellel report and explain it masterfully, giving us an account that is both insightful and thoroughly engaging. One longs for a sequel in which justice prevails.

Mark Bowden is an author and journalist. The Steal is his latest book.

DEAD IN THE WATER: A true story of kidnapping, murder and a global maritime conspiracy, by Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel | 288 p. | portfolio | $27

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