Since the beginning of the year there had been a significant drop in the number of tankers simply going “dark” in order to trade with sanctioned countries, according to Daniel Fink, director of business development and data partnerships at London-based Israeli “big data” intelligence firm Windward.
In a presentation on “Know Your vessel”, Fink said that when in March 2019 the UN initiated a report into deceptive shipping practices, the normal strategy of a ship planning to deal with a sanctioned country such as North Korea, Iran or Venezuela was just to turn off the AIS, to “go dark”.
However, Fink noted that the authorities had got wise to this trick, so in an attempt to keep one step ahead, sanctions busters were now resorting instead to fake AIS signals. In the example that he cited in his short presentation, Fink traced the track of a tanker that had left Pakistan (empty), headed towards the Persian Gulf, before apparently doing a U-turn and heading to China, where, somehow, it managed to offload some oil that it had never loaded.
Fink said that during this “U-Turn” the ship had at one point reappeared some distance away from its previous signal – a distance impossible to have covered in less than an hour. The conclusion was that the vessel had turned off its AIS some time previously while around the Strait of Hormuz. A “dummy” vessel had then turned on an AIS that impersonated the oil tanker. The tanker then headed off to undertake a ship to ship transfer of (presumably sanctioned) oil before reappearing near the dummy ship and turning its AIS back on.
Fink said that insurers and authorities faced a massive problem for two reasons. One was that the amount of data that needed to be processed was massive – some 150 million signals a day. This inevitably led to a slew of “false positives”, where AIS was turned off for innocent reasons, or was faulty.
A second problem was that insurers were now required to comply with a far greater number of regulations to ensure that they were in complete compliance with all of the relevant regulators. Fink said that the solution to this had to be automation rather than manual checking.