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How Satellites Can Defend Against Pirates

  • by: Ryan Abbot
  • On: 21, Dec 2018
3 min read

Piracy has been a fact of Marine life since the first boats sailed across the seas. As boats have changed, pirates have become more sophisticated, more intelligent and harder to catch. Since international spaces don’t always have dedicated security forces, pirates can often slip away undetected.

Piracy impacts ports and trade routes all over the world, resulting in around a $6 billion loss per year for the global economy. More importantly, the lives of those at sea are placed at risk through the actions of criminals who often escape undeterred. In 2016, more crew were kidnapped at sea than in any other year of the previous decade, prompting the International Maritime Bureau to take drastic action against piracy. Part of what’s being proposed is to use satellites as a means of tracking pirates across the globe.

How Satellites Can Help Stop Pirates

Maritime tracking through satellites is just one way that new technology is helping to fight piracy at sea. Satellites can track commercial ships, as well as log any ships on unexpected or illegal courses. Newer satellites can even relay this information to ships, giving them more accurate and time-sensitive information that could prove vital to their own safety.

7 million Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals are broadcast from ships every single day, which broadcast identity, location and heading. AIS signals are required by law, and any ships operating without them are immediately flagged as suspicious. Upon taking a new ship, pirates will often disable the ship’s AIS in order to effectively disappear from the global network. This is where satellites can come in to help spot ships even without a working AIS: using remote sensory imagery in real time to provide an image of where the ships are in the ocean.

Algorithms may soon scan through thousands or even millions of images, analysing all the data from shipping lanes around the world to try to determine typical patterns and behaviours of pirate ships to predict where they’ll strike next, or to intercept potential attacks before they happen.

If this is the case, pirates will likely be forced into more creative methods to outwit authorities.

Here’s How AI Will Transform the Marine Industry.

The Future of Piracy

With satellites helping agencies and taskforces to catch more pirates, many are wondering how the pirates will adapt to a world that is becoming increasingly adept at stopping them.

Beyond the looming threat of near omniscient satellites watching their every move, pirates will soon contend with ships becoming autonomous, meaning there’ll be no crew to take as hostages for ransom.

The only course of action left for pirates is to hack the technology brought in to deter them. Cyber-crime is becoming more prevalent – even being reported in the Military – so it’s only a matter of time until cyber-attacks becomes mainstream in Marine crime.

If hacking isn’t an option, pirates may threaten the ship itself. Autonomous ships will have millions of dollars of software on board; losing just one boat could prove devastating for businesses.

Read more about how Autonomous Technology Will Change The Marine Industry, or learn about why Smart Ports are important for keeping the Marine industry organised, efficient and safe.

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