Chasing the illegal loggers looting the Amazon forest

The cargo ship Yacu Kallpa rode impatiently at anchor off Iquitos, Peru, a ramshackle city on a bend in the broad, turbulent waters of the Amazon River. She was a midsize ship, a tenth of a mile long, low-slung, with a seven-story superstructure in the stern and plumes of rust fanning down the hull from her main deck scuppers. She was like any other cargo ship in the world, but with a dark history. At that moment, in November 2015, she needed to get out of town fast.

The captain and crew had a long run ahead, nearly 2,300 miles down the Amazon, then another 4,000 miles north to Tampico, Mexico, and finally to Houston, with lumber harvested from the Amazon rain forest. It was a route the ship and its predecessors had run hundreds of times for more than 40 years, hauling millions of pounds of timber at a time, to supply lumberyards and big-box stores across the United States with the ingredients for the floors, decks, and doors of the typical American home.

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