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

This system works to keep the industry rich and protected, but it also presents opportunities for the unscrupulous, in this case a colorful Greek magnate named Marios Iliopoulos, the Brillante’s owner, who was found to have staged the hijacking and destruction of his own vessel. The authors paint a vivid portrait of the man, who races cars under the name “Super Mario” and who terrorized a British courtroom after he was briefly detained and questioned in London “with the swagger of a professional wrestler approaching the ring, his unshaven features twisted into a scowl, arms swinging by his sides, untucked shirt over an ample stomach.”

Mockett’s death gives the book a powerful emotional center, and sets up its central conflict, which is less between the crooked shipowner and the authorities than between the elite London insurance lawyers whose primary goal is to mitigate damages for their clients, and two consulting investigators, Richard Veale and Michael Conner, both former cops, who want justice.

True stories usually have messier endings than we would prefer. Given the raging civil war in Yemen and the difficulty of working through local officials in Aden, the detectives can’t find Mockett’s killer, or even who ordered the hit, although the facts point in a clear direction. And while the detectives assemble enough witnesses and evidence to prove that Iliopoulos orchestrated the “hijacking,” astonishingly, he escapes not only criminal but financial consequences.

“In the confusing netherworld of insurance law, the owner of a wrecked ship wasn’t the only one who could pursue compensation from Lloyd’s. Instead, an owner’s claim could be ‘assigned’ to another entity that had suffered a loss when the vessel was destroyed.” The authors conclude that the shipowner came out “at least, tens of millions of dollars better off.”

Sorting all of this out could not have been easy. Campbell and Chellel report and explain it masterfully, giving us an account that is both enlightening and thoroughly engaging. One longs for a sequel where justice is done.

Mark Bowden is an author and journalist. “The Steal” is his most recent book.

DEAD IN THE WATER: A True Story of Hijacking, Murder, and a Global Maritime Conspiracy, by Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel | 288 pp. | Portfolio | $27

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