Combating illicit activities at sea is crucial for ensuring a peaceful and sustainable use of marine resources. But how can governments and nongovernmental organisations identify illegal fishing, drug trafficking, bunkering, and other activities among the thousands of vessels navigating our ocean each day? Furthermore, how can these organisations investigate and take the necessary action needed to control and arrest those operating illegally?
This is where maritime surveillance and analysis, interagency coordination and international cooperation, joint operations, and legal procedures are critical to effective governance.
YARIS & Skylight, complementary tools for maritime surveillance
In the Gulf of Guinea, the nineteen coastal states from Senegal to Angola signed the Yaoundé Code of Conduct in 2013, which paved the way for developing the YARIS platform. This allows the Yaoundé Architecture and its member states to conduct end-to-end maritime security operations with a single tool. YARIS allows the secure integration of maritime information sources (systems, radar, satellite imagery, etc.) in order to analyse, plan and conduct operations as well as compile electronic evidence. In addition, YARIS offers its users a range of complementary communication tools (chat, email, video conferencing) allowing them to securely exchange information and coordinate online. Presently, YARIS connects more than 130 centres from national and regional maritime centres as well as external partners.
On the side of information sources, billions of data are collected everyday but require specific and efficient processes for analysts and decision-makers to use. Skylight, a maritime domain awareness platform available at no cost from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), sifts through these data points to automatically identify specific vessel behaviours around the world. From identifying fishing in restricted areas through its machine learning analysis to seeing “dark” vessels via Skylight’s computer vision capabilities, the platform provides valuable assistance to analysts so they can focus their efforts on vessels of interest. Skylight is used by numerous organisations and governments, especially in the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Following the introduction of both systems by the Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC), Skylight has been integrated into the YARIS system, via the application programming interface (API) in July 2022. After six months of testing and use, the integration has been a success, and the integration of the two systems offers tangible added value to carry out maritime surveillance in the Gulf of Guinea.
What type of vessel behaviours are detected?
Skylight detects different types of events of interest, from algorithms and models that process the route and speed of vessels. For example, this approach offers the ability to uncover behaviour resembling transshipments where only one vessel is publicly transmitting its information through the Automatic Identification System or AIS, but another vessel not transmitting AIS may be part of transfer of fish or other goods. Such practices can hide IUU fishing and mask other illegal activity as well. These Skylight detections are integrated into YARIS allowing analysts to quickly identify vessels of interest and/or to cross-check various information, in order to take action to protect our ocean ecosystems and combat any illicit activity.
Today, YARIS users can see three Skylight events in real-time including Standard Rendezvous ((transshipments with two vessels transmitting their locations via AIS), Dark Rendezvous (potential transshipments where only one vessel is transmitting on AIS) and Fishing (auto-generated, global detection of fishing activity) events.
Cases of transshipments off the Republic of Congo
In November 2022, using data from the Skylight API, the YARIS system alerted maritime analysts of a suspicious transshipment between two Liberian-flagged tankers, the Trauqip and the Yluap, 250 nautical miles southwest of Pointe-Noire, a Republic of Congo port city.
Maritime surveillance was immediately oriented to this area. The automatic analysis of YARIS also detected in zone D different drift periods of several ships preceding potential transshipments on the Lebanese-flagged cargo ship Isabella and the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship An-tonin.
Finally, another transshipment has been detected via YARIS in the Gabonese’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the tanker B. Oigres and the Cargo Christo.
These four events happened in the same risk area, and need to be closely analysed by the maritime centres. All of these vessels have been added to the list of vessels of interest as part of the monitoring, control and surveillance process, in order to determine potential illegal activities.
Note: the name of vessels has been modified for investigation reasons.
Skylight and Yaris, a common future
The Memorandum of Agreement (MoA), signed between AI2, Skylight’s parent company, and Expertise France, the implementing agency of GoGIN+ project, who co-designed YARIS with the Yaoundé Architecture, defines areas of collaboration for better use of the two systems, for the benefit of the coastal countries of the Gulf of Guinea.
In the coming months, both parties in close collaboration with the representatives of the Yaoundé Architecture and the users, will report testimonials and the positive impact of such tools in the fight against illegal and criminal activities at sea.