Overhead view of a dark cargo ship

Dark ships, or ships engaging in illicit activities are increasingly faking their locations. This is leading to concerns about the potential value of these activities reaching billions of dollars. Satellite technology is uncovering instances of “dark vessels”. These are ships that manipulate their Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) or use AIS spoofing to report false locations. This practice is on the rise. There has been an increase of 12% in location manipulation among oil tankers and cargo ships for the first half of 2023 compared to the same period last year and an 82% increase compared to the first half of 2021.

These illicit activities include dark ships evading sanctions, such as Russian oil being moved in violation of the G7’s $60 per barrel price cap. Tankers are also operating covertly in Venezuelan waters, as well as smuggling grain from Ukraine. The increase in visibility and tracking capabilities is partly due to advancements in technology. This has made it easier to detect AIS manipulation.

The economic impact of these dark ships is significant. The movement of Russian oil alone potentially worth tens of billions of dollars. There are also concerns about the smuggling of other goods, such as grain and oil. This can mask their origins and evade sanctions. As governments and private companies take measures to address these issues, it is becoming increasingly challenging for dark ships to engage in illegal activities while faking their locations.