Davis boarded the MV Victoria No. 168 in Vacamonte, Panama, on August 5, 2015, departing a few days later for a voyage that was supposed to last between two and a half and three months. The Victoria was operated by Gran Victoria International, a Panamanian company, but had ownership ties to Japan, and was staffed with a Taiwanese captain and a Burmese and Chinese crew. It was not an ordinary fishing boat; the Victoria was a tuna transshipment vessel, a kind of mother ship for smaller commercial boats, with large refrigerated holds that allowed boats to offload their catches at sea and avoid the hassle of making regular trips back to port. Such an arrangement also makes it easier to hide illegal shark fins and drugs among the fish transfers. Davis had worked on transshipment vessels before and knew they were among the most dangerous for observers.
“The ship is a little bit different. I’ll tell you about it once I get back,” Davis wrote in an email to his father, John Davis, a few weeks into his trip. The two were close, and John often received emails from his son while he was out at sea—nothing about this one suggested he was in any danger.
Fisheries observer Keith Davis monitored and collected data on fishing vessels, devoting his life to protecting the seas—until he went missing. Sarah Tory reports on his disappearance at Hakai Magazine.