How can Offshore Asset Surveillance Help Us Secure the Depths from Damage and Sabotage?

Offshore Asset Surveillance is key

The rise in marine traffic heightens the risk of illicit maritime activities such as vessels going dark. Detecting these vessels is vital to safeguarding critical subsea and offshore infrastructure, such as power and telecommunications cables, gas and oil pipelines, offshore wind farms, and offshore oil rigs. Hence, tackling the issue of dark ships is an urgent matter.

The crucial role of subsea and offshore assets in our society

According to a Reuters article from March 2023, subsea cables are at the forefront of a new rivalry between the United States and China over who controls the flow of big data. These cables serve as the foundation of the global internet, responsible for transporting a staggering 99% of the world’s data traffic, encompassing everything from instant messenger conversations to stock market transactions and even classified military information.

As a response to this heightened importance, cable manufacturers have forged stronger connections with governments and major global tech companies are looking to construct large subsea cable systems. Also, recent research indicates a substantial growth in the offshore wind sector over the past few years.

These developments emphasize a trend of increased activity in our oceans. As a result, protecting these offshore and subsea structures is highly important, as they ultimately facilitate critical exchanges and interactions among human beings.

Acts of sabotage using dark ships calls for use of offshore asset surveillance

The recent incident at Nord Stream, a subsea gas pipeline in the Nordics, has further emphasized the vulnerability of subsea and offshore assets to acts of sabotage carried out by dark ships. Therefore, preserving and protecting these essential components of society has never been more important.

Detecting dark ships and surveilling subsea assets poses some challenges

Identifying dark ships and surveilling subsea assets presents a couple of challenges. Illegal activities at sea are often committed in areas where surveillance is weak. That is why the open ocean is often a major obstacle to enforcing maritime governance. At the same time, criminals, state actors, and terrorists are becoming increasingly adept at concealing their illegal activities.

From a technological standpoint, verifying the true location of a vessel attempting to conceal its whereabouts has consistently posed a challenge. This is primarily because many vessels engaged in illicit operations either do not utilize AIS transponders or manipulate their signal transmissions. A recent study has confirmed that 27% of vessels equipped with class A AIS transponders do not transmit their location for at least 10% of their operational periods, and 19% of these vessels that effectively “go dark” are engaged in illegal activities.

It is even a challenging task to determine a vessel’s intended destination, given that only 41% of vessels worldwide actually report their intended destinations, as revealed by a study. This underscores the necessity of inventing new technologies to limit the activities of criminal or even terrorist organizations. These technologies serve a dual purpose, safeguarding not only against threats on the high seas but also protecting subsea and offshore assets.

Today, maritime authorities employ various approaches to enhance maritime safety. These methods encompass routine vessel inspections and screenings, overseeing cargo operations, facilitating security training, and documenting security incidents. Additionally, monitoring AIS signals for signs of atypical vessel behavior is considered a valuable tool, as highlighted by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. However, current technology lacks the capacity to handle vast volumes of AIS data originating from multiple sources. To derive actionable insights from this diverse data flow, systems must be able to seamlessly fuse, process, and store this data.

The solution to dark ship detection and subsea asset protection: Advanced AIS data analytics

In response to the above-mentioned challenges, advanced technologies like machine-learning, automated asset monitoring and the identification of dark ships can be a crucial step. When embedded into intelligent data management, several AIS data sources can work together effectively. This enables maritime authorities to identify illegal activities based on smart AIS data insights.

Gatehouse Maritime’s advanced data management solution facilitates effective collaboration between diverse AIS data sources, so that actionable insights can be generated. Paired with our cutting-edge machine-learning technology, Gatehouse Maritime systematically monitors vessel movements, identifying unusual behaviors such as toggling transponders on and off or the entry of vessels into protected areas housing subsea assets. This automated 24/7 surveillance enables proactive protection of critical subsea infrastructure and offshore assets against potential vessel damage and global threats. By leveraging AIS data insights, it helps prevent downtime, reduce repair expenses, and support incident investigations. Additionally, it provides destination predictions for vessels, addressing the challenge of vessels not always indicating their destinations.

In Gatehouse Maritime’s platform, continuous real-time analytics operate, searching for pattern matches based on factors like port of origin, vessel types, movement patterns, speed over ground, course over ground, and various other parameters. This comprehensive 24/7 scanning covers all vessels within a designated area of interest, such as a nation’s territorial waters or offshore and subsea infrastructures. When a match is detected, an alert is promptly generated and sent to the relevant authorities, empowering them to take interceptive or investigative action.

The difficulty of tracking vessels that operate without AIS transponders is a persistent challenge that cannot be eliminated. However, detecting unusual behavior with smart machine learning algorithms such as those of Gatehouse Maritime is a first key step toward enhanced ocean transparency.

Recognizing the significance of maritime domain awareness, we are committed to supporting authorities and prominent global maritime stakeholders through cutting-edge technology powered by advanced machine-learning and analytics. This enables us to uncover vital insights from an extensive AIS data pool. With Gatehouse Maritime, global maritime key players can create true ocean intelligence, strengthening their capabilities in vessel surveillance, subsea asset protection, risk management for illegal marine activities, and carrying out successful defense operations. Above all, our primary objective is to empower them in their mission to ensure safety in international waters and the protection of subsea assets.


Michael Hagbarth Christiansen
Sales Manager | LinkedIn

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