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Global tech providers to host satellite surveillance exercise focused on smuggling at sea

Starboard® Maritime Intelligence, S&P Global Market Intelligence, Spire Maritime, and Planet Labs PBC are collaborating to demonstrate emerging technology and tools that help combat illegal smuggling of commodities. The showcase will take place at the Indo Pacific 2023 Maritime Exposition, 7-9 November in Sydney Australia, and will also be available live online.

The exercise called Operation TS will focus on using maritime domain awareness tools, vessel information, and satellite imagery to uncover behaviours associated with illegal smuggling.

“Techniques for smuggling are becoming increasingly sophisticated and analysts routinely need to employ multiple approaches to uncover this activity which can include ship to ship transfers, turning off location reporting, behaving in anomalous ways, location spoofing, flying flags of convenience, and using multiple layers of shell companies,” says Mat Brown, CRO, Starboard.

S&P Global Market Intelligence recently released a report which highlighted the growth of the Russian tanker shadow fleet currently sidestepping G7 oil price caps. This fleet is estimated at 443 vessels, many of which are older vessels that run risks ranging from crew health and safety, to oil spills and collisions, to operating without adequate insurance due to non-compliance with sanctions.

Starboard is blending S&P Global Market Intelligence data with vessel behaviour algorithms including those that predict possible vessel movements and port visits when a vessel has gone dark. The S&P Global Market Intelligence vessel database contains over 600 fields of information on vessels with an International Maritime Organisation (IMO) number and provides insights on ownership structures, ownership changes, and vessel management.

“Maritime domain awareness tools that allow analysts to understand the complex network of relationships, via at sea encounters and ownership structures, can help to uncover high risk vessels and fleets,” says Brown.

Illegal operators often rely on hiding their activity by turning off their AIS devices or spoofing their locations. A recent example highlighted vessels spoofing their location so that they appeared to load oil from the United Arab Emirates whilst actually loading oil in Iran-an activity that would violate sanctions. This kind of spoofing activity can be uncovered by emerging tools like Spire’s AIS Position Validation. Electro optical satellite imagery from high resolution commercial provider Planet Labs, can then be utilised to capture images with enough detail for these vessels to be identified in their actual locations.

“What the community has historically talked about as a futuristic potential ability is now here, being used across the globe to solve the challenges of dark vessels. At Planet, we capture daily satellite data of the Earth, allowing analysts to monitor vessels in almost real time and identify dark vessels by their prior trajectory and dimensions. We are now in a moment where our satellite data is allowing customers to go from identifying only a fraction of dark vessels through reports to seeing thousands of ships across broad areas and through time,” says Mike Merit, Planet Chief Customer Officer.

The live showcase held at the Indo Pacific 2023 Maritime Exposition will also be available online with daily updates. Technology from all four providers will demonstrate how new tools are helping organisations ranging from defence to insurance in uncovering complex and evolving illegal activity at sea.

Register to follow Operation TS online or at the expo demonstration →


High resolution images available for media download here.

IMAGE: Planet imagery in Starboard showing dark vessels undertaking ship to ship transfer activity.

IMAGE: Satellite image of the Monomakh, a vessel allegedly engaged in transporting sanctioned oil to Russia according to the Wall Street Journal. © 2022, Planet Labs PBC.

IMAGE: Advanced filtering enables global real-time analysis of tankers who have recently visited ports of interest. Augmenting Starboard’s behavioural analytics, with S&P Global Market Intelligence vessel information, can help with challenges like unpicking complicated vessel ownership structures and identifying high risk vessels and fleets. [Animation available]


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