It is relatively easy to see something and understand it. But what about what you cannot see?
Today, businesses and organizations need to strengthen their ability to see all elements that impact their businesses, and as a result, need to find new ways to uncover what is hidden in plain sights. This is the only way to ensure business readiness and maximize operational efficiency. For both maritime and trade, this demands a new level of operation and technological collaboration.
The wider ecosystem made a significant technological shift in recent years, adopting advanced technology as a means to streamline operations and enhance all aspects of the business. Today, technology serves a fundamental role in the maritime toolkit.
However, when all players involved have advanced technologies at their disposal, those with bad intentions find new ways to manipulate those technologies. This, in turn, forces everyone else to continually advance their capabilities and tools to gain new levels of foresight on the seas.
Layering knowledge and fusing vast amounts of data provides a new foresight level, adding a fresh perspective and uncovering new connections hidden in plain sight. When this ability is dynamic and can adapt instantly to new challenges and changes, it becomes invaluable.
Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmissions enable vessels to see one another at sea and be seen by those monitoring the seas. In recent years, with the understanding that bad actors turn off AIS transmissions to avoid detection, transmissions, or rather lack of, has become a red flag for investigating if it was deliberate or due to technical issues.
A transmission gap in itself is not a reason for an in-depth investigation. Sometimes, ships go dark as a result of technical malfunction or coverage issues. Escalating each case would be a waste of human resources and time. On the other hand, bad actors, whose transmission gaps would reveal illicit activities, have sophisticated methods to mask their behavior. As a result, only escalating ships that go dark might not catch actual criminals.
To know which vessels to investigate further and which to clear requires diving into the darkness and understanding the events leading up to the transmission gap, including what the ship was doing, who it was meeting with, and what it was trying to mask. To do that, it is crucial to leverage technology through the introduction of additional layers of information. This will enable businesses to gain an additional perspective of a situation, adding another angle of insights to AIS transmission gaps.
Multiple sources of information can be fused to unveil hidden information, and that requires collaboration and data sharing on a large scale.
As with many other industries, in the maritime industry, no single player has all the information they need at all times to make the best business decisions. The combination and collaboration of different technologies and sources can help uncover vessels’ true behavior, leveraging behavior and knowledge to actionable intelligence.
The ability to bring together multiple sources of information makes it possible to shift from reactive to predictive. By screening, searching, analyzing, and linking dynamic data from various sources in real-time and incorporating deep learning algorithms, information becomes knowledge, and that makes all the difference.
Collaborating provides additional insights and perspectives, and this especially so in the maritime ecosystem.
Adding information drawn from other communication methods, such as RF analytics to geo-locate vessels, can bring to focus a blurry interaction that could not be explained. For example, after going dark, it may be possible to identify if two ships engaged in other interaction methods, revealing what was unseen and unknown. This is especially crucial in areas known to have heavy trading traffic as well as illicit actors. In such regions, AIS transmission gaps only tell part of the story.
Adding a layer of behavioral insights from complementary sources and using advanced technology to fuse it together reveals what is hidden beneath the surface – namely if a ship interacted with other ships or behaved suspiciously while it was trying to hide.
In doing so, it becomes possible to increase the field of vision and gain an additional perspective on a situation, improving clarity and understanding. These additional tools create a 360-degree view of the entire picture.
When fusing behavioral analytics with additional layers of intelligence, the new levels of insights derived provide a better picture of the entire ecosystem.
Windward recently identified an Iranian fishing vessel leaving a port in Iran, used for both commercial and military purposes, and known to be used for changing military personnel.
The ship went dark off the coast of Somalia, which on its own, is not suspicious behavior. But when overlaid with media reports over the years which has highlighted that Iran has been utilizing this route to smuggle equipment to Yemen (via Somalia) to support the Houthi rebels, this behavior is not seen in isolation but in a larger context, highlighting that further investigation may be needed.
Leveraging the known behavior with additional intelligence from HawkEye 360, which operates a satellite constellation able to identify and geolocate a variety of radiofrequency signals, such as VHF marine radios, adds an additional perspective. It highlights that two vessels in close proximity were talking on VHF channel 71 just 25 nautical miles northeast and east of where the Iranian fishing vessel went dark only three hours before it came back up again after three weeks of no AIS transmissions, pinpointing on a possible Dark Ship to ship operation.
The ability to layer additional information to what is already known provided an additional perspective on the situation, making it possible to unveil ship to ship communication with a vessel hiding its location. When leveraging this knowledge with human expertise, it is possible to determine what the vessels were doing and what they were not doing (in this case, fishing).
As the world continues to evolve, the need to add additional layers of information and gain fresh perspectives on situations will inevitably continue to change. With this change, the available information will increase, the types of deceptive practices used will become more sophisticated, and the level of insights organizations will need to retain business readiness, and operational effectiveness will continue to grow.
To combat this, the industry needs to adapt, not solely by turning to technology, but by turning to each other. Businesses need to collaborate to share information, and technology platforms must ensure that information can be fused together. This is the only way to ensure that knowledge becomes meaningful and the right players see the right information at the right time.
When able to see beyond what is visible, businesses can vet counterparties, enforcement agencies can prevent criminals from entering borders, organizations can ensure regulatory compliance, and the seas become safer for all by seeing beyond the here and now.