PERSPECTIVE: Siled processes drown maritime security efforts


Governments are daily confronted with a multitude of criminal activities and threats in their territorial waters. From pollution and wildlife crimes such as illegal fishing and oil spillage to illicit trafficking – from drugs to forced labor – these crimes are widespread and have drastic environmental, geopolitical and security impacts. interior.

Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing is such a widespread problem that it has replaced piracy as the main global threat to maritime security. With approximately 20 percent of all fish caught illegally, IUU fishing not only threatens the marine ecosystem, but also hinders fisheries-based economies. Fishing operations, both legal and illegal, often commit human rights abuses, forcing migrant workers to work long hours for criminally low pay, sometimes under threat of force or debt bondage .

Already, governments are coming together to solve the problem of IUU fishing. In May this year, “The Quad”, consisting of the United States, Japan, India and Australia, launched the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness program, aimed at using technology and freely share information among stakeholders.

While this is a step in the right direction, in order to properly tackle all maritime crime, it is imperative to recognize that a unique characteristic of maritime crime is that these illegal activities tend to be linked to each other. A vessel engaged in IUU fishing may also engage in illegal labor or drug smuggling. And yet, governments still treat each risk on an individual basis, resulting in inefficiency or lack of oversight when it comes to catching these bad actors. A recent study found that 33% of fisheries-related offenses from 2000 to 2020 (including illegal fishing, human rights abuses and smuggling) were associated with the same 450 vessels and 20 companies.

To combat the growing scourge of maritime crime – an activity that poses geopolitical, economic, ecological and human rights risks – authorities must take a holistic approach to maritime domain awareness (MDA).

Current solutions

Various off-the-shelf MDA tools exist to deal with these respective threats. These tools – some of which are commercially available, others exclusively for government use – include vessel tracking, pattern recognition, vessel information, and more. But the vastness of the ocean is such that there will be still be points not monitored by these base systems, which are less and less reliable. Vessels can disable their Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals at will, while new technology has given criminals ways to spoof their tracking signals from a fake location. These are conditions ripe for crime, and malicious actors will continue to take advantage of the slow implementation of regulations to conduct illegal activities at sea.

A critical problem in existing regulatory systems and tools currently in use is that they are siloed. By focusing on a single offense and not communicating enough between different agencies looking for different types of illegal activity, authorities are slow to recognize many related crimes.

Take, for example, data from an expedition conducted last year by Sea Shepherds, a leading conservation organization, to locate an illegal fishing fleet from China in the Pacific Ocean. Of the 30 vessels they observed, 24 had a history of labor abuse, previous convictions for IUU fishing and violations of maritime law. A ship’s crew, Chang Tai 802claimed to have been stranded at sea for years, while the ocean ruby, a tanker serving the fleet, was found to be affiliated with a company suspected of selling fuel to North Korea in violation of UN sanctions. Another fishing vessel, the Fu Yuan Yu 7880was affiliated with executives linked to human trafficking.

Because maritime crime is interconnected, authorities need to break down the siled approaches of MDA and embrace a more holistic approach to maritime security.

The key to getting a global view of maritime risk is first sharing information, not only between countries with a common goal as in the case of The Quad’s fight against IUU fishing, but also between different agencies. law enforcement within a country. Second, authorities should use the best technologies and diverse data sources. Traditional manual methods of detection are extremely time-consuming and much more prone to human error – suspicious activity is often overlooked, and even when it isn’t, authorities are often mired in a futile hunt for a trace. convoluted writing for the purpose of identifying the owner or operator of a vessel.

In addition to digitizing and streamlining manual processes, AI and big data are integral to aggregating relevant data sources in formerly siled industries – from port and ship data to historical wind strength data. to data on the vessel’s draft (which can be used to determine whether it has loaded or unloaded cargo). By simultaneously sifting through this data, analyzing it, flagging suspicious actions and connecting the dots, AI can find the “needles in the haystack” that humans cannot.

For example, MDA-driven algorithms can find links between actual fishing vessels, supporting commercial fleets and their owners, providing stakeholders with a broader and more accurate picture of all entities involved in maritime crime.


The enormity of the ocean and the unreliability of siled data sources means that if government agencies only look at one aspect of risk, they will miss an ocean of suspicious activity. Only by adopting comprehensive, AI-driven regulatory solutions can we usher in a new era of MDA. The result will be healthier, safer waters and smoother navigation for law enforcement around the world.

The views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a wide range of views in support of securing our homeland. To submit an article for review, email [email protected]


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