Oceans on Fire


The landing was terrifying. The crescent-shaped Pacific atoll was so small that they had built a concrete runway, like an aircraft carrier, on the side. We landed with only a few feet to spare. My cameraman and I looked at each other, took a deep breath, and walked out of the aircraft into the blazing heat. We had been commissioned by Channel 4 to make a documentary series on the power of the oceans. It had taken us on one of the craziest trips we had ever experienced. A fourteen day one-way voyage around the world filming in five countries.

Many years later, I had exchanged the camera for a pen, writing thrillers about a film company who nosed their way into conspiracies, corruption and terror in order to make good TV. Our ‘Oceans’ adventure was too good an opportunity to miss and so I sent my protagonist Nathalie Thompson on the same journey. Unfortunately for Nathalie her filming locations were not as benign as ours.

The Ocean wields enormous power. The warnings of climate change and the possible extinction of fossil fuels have led engineers to create enormous machines to tap this force from the sea. Waves, tides and thermal currents have been turned into thousands of kilowatts of energy. An easy solution for the planet’s needs? Perhaps not. For who owns the oceans?

The countries of the world have been trying to answer this question for the last fifty years or so. They’ve even got round to drafting a Law of the Sea charter to define who owns what and where. It’s a pity that not everyone agrees with what it says. In “Oceans on Fire” Nathalie is commissioned to direct a television documentary on the resources of the sea. Little does she know at the outset that her brief will change from a film regarding climate change and ocean energy into a documentary about sex, suspicion and sabotage. The sex, a scandal surrounding a signatory to the Law of the Sea; the suspicion, who or what would want ocean energy to fail; the sabotage, a series of accidents too close to be coincidental.

The strange thing about fiction is that it can often be copied by fact. A few months after I had finished Oceans on Fire the Chinese started to build artificial islands in the South China Sea. Why? To own the ocean around them. There have been enough disputes and even wars to gain territory on the land and now apparently this is moving to the oceans. This is a thing that Nathalie soon learns as she attempts to make her programme, and the deeper she digs the more threatening things get. This is no cops and robbers’ crime book, it’s on a bigger scale. There’s a lot at stake in the two thirds of our planet that is under water. In the past the seas were remote, inaccessible and, apart from fishing and shipping lanes, worthless. Today we have the technology to grab minerals and power, and where there’s wealth there will always be people who will go to any lengths to seize it.

So how does Nathalie get on? I can tell you one thing, just like our landing on that coral atoll, she finds it pretty terrifying.

Oceans on Fire by Martin Granger is published by RedDoor 


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