New data from HawkEye 360 reinforces findings from TankerTracker.com, a commercial crude oil watchdog, that Iran has increased tanker activity to Syria to evade crude oil sanctions.
As recently as last week, the Trump administration issued a global maritime advisory to counter sanctions evasion by Iran, North Korea and Syria.
HawkEye 360’s commercial RF signal data can identify vessels even when they have deactivated their Automatic Identification System (AIS). The fusion of HawkEye 360’s data with TankerTrackers.com’s imagery intelligence (IMINT) and open source intelligence (OSINT) resulted in a first-of-its-kind unclassified and sharable assessment of Iranian tanker activities.
The above image shows the limited ability of AIS to track a vessel’s movement and how HawkEye 360 was able to flag suspicious AIS gaps in Romina’s recorded travel. In mid-March 2020, HawkEye 360 started monitoring Romina, an Iranian crude oil tanker that was last known to have returned to Iranian waters from a trip on February 23. Romina then remained completely dark until it appeared in the Gulf of Suez on March 17. When the vessel exited the Suez into the Mediterranean on March 21, the vessel again went dark.
When AIS is not able to supply enough knowledge, other data sources are critical for developing comprehensive maritime awareness. On the evening of March 25, HawkEye 360’s RFGeo product geolocated VHF channel 16 maritime signals at Syria’s Baniyas Refinery. VHF channel 16 is the international hailing frequency to establish initial contact between two vessels or a vessel and land, such as for port activity. When the signal was captured, AIS records showed no vessels in the vicinity.
On March 26, TankerTrackers.com analyzed Planet Labs’ 3-meter electro-optical satellite imagery of the sea near the refinery. TankerTrackers.com identified four Iranian-flagged vessels near the refinery’s designated anchorage. While Adrian Darya-1 was already known to be at the port, the recent arrival of Romina and additional tankers to Syria’s Baniyas Refinery without AIS notification was consistent with the behavior anticipated from vessels being used to evade Iranian sanctions.