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An introduction to AIS within the realm of Risk & Compliance

20 January 2021 Jeremy Domballe

Key Points:

  • Automatic Identification System (AIS) was primarily designed as an aid to navigation to improve vessel safety by increasing situational awareness of nearby traffic
  • It allows vessels to automatically transmit a series of structured messages containing navigation, identity and voyage related details
  • Regulation 19 of SOLAS Chapter V requires AIS to be fitted aboard all ships of 300 gross tones and upwards engaged on international voyages, cargo ships of 500 gross tones and upwards not engaged on international voyages, and all passenger ships irrespective of size
  • AIS is being increasingly used to better understand vessel behaviors, such as: voyage irregularities, suspected dark activity, ship-to-ship activity and identity tampering

Introducing AIS

AIS, was primarily designed as an aid to navigation to improve vessel safety by increasing situational awareness of nearby traffic but has since also been adopted for the monitoring of vessel within vessel traffic systems. It works by allowing individual vessels to automatically broadcast a regularly updated series of structured messages containing navigation (position, heading, destination etc…) and identity information (IMO, Call Sign, MMSI, Ship Type, dimensions) to other vessels in their immediate vicinity, as well as being picked up by terrestrial and satellite receivers.

Operation of Class A equipment is mandatory globally for all vessels operating under SOLAS. Regulation 19 of SOLAS Chapter V requires AIS to be fitted aboard all ships of:

  • 300 gross tonnes and upwards engaged on international voyages
  • Cargo ships of 500 gross tonnes and upwards not engaged on international voyages
  • All passenger ships irrespective of size

These regulations became effective on the 31st of December 2004 (for more information on AIS please contact us.

AIS Data Chart 1

Figure 1: Example of AIS Data. Source: IHS Markit - Maritime Intelligence Risk Suite

Why is AIS important?

AIS is one of the easiest and relatively cheapest means by which you can track vessels internationally, and due to the identity information passed through AIS (principally the IMO), the positional data can be linked back to a ship that is registered under the IMO scheme so it's unsurprising that this type of data has been widely used within the industry to understand vessel movements.

From an application standpoint, just like wearing a fitness tracker can give you insights into where you are, how you operate as an individual and flag certain behaviours and activities, AIS is being increasingly used in a very similar manner as to provide key insights into a vessels current and historical operations (such as ports of call), as well as monitoring behaviours for any anomalies (STS, Suspected Dark Activities, Voyage Irregularities, Identity Tampering, Transparency etc…).

Those whom have spent enough time tracking vessels through AIS will have undoubtedly at some point seen a vessel disappearing from AIS for a few days, call at an anchorage only to be seen going round and round in circles before sailing away, or perhaps seeing a vessel jumping across continents - as if they've somehow discovered the science of teleportation, and further still, to seeing names or flags which do not match the vessel records.

These types of behaviours aren't new, but the application of algorithms to screen and capture such behaviours is what's becoming more prominent, as these actually speak towards what a vessel could have done in such instances; a disappearance could in fact be a suspected dark activity, an anchorage call followed by circular motions could in fact be a ship-to-ship operation, and a continental jump could speak towards another vessel emulating the vessel of interest.

Example of Ship Tracking

Figure 2: Example of Ship Track with behaviour markers [Draught Change & Suspected Dark Activity]. Source: IHS Markit - Maritime Intelligence Risk Suite

For that reason, new ways of looking at the data have been developed as to identify and facilitate screening against possibly illicit shipping practises, in the form of:

  • AIS Dark Activity screening
  • STS Activity screening
  • Identity Alteration screening
  • Voyage irregularity screening
  • Document falsification screening
  • Sanctioned port call screening

These are only some of the new ways in which IHS Markit is harnessing AIS to provide transparency to the wider maritime domain as it relates to risk and compliance screening, not only arming business with clear indicators against these behaviours, but the means to investigate them further too.

To find out more about our compliance screening capabilities, please visit our MIRS Product page, or contact us for further information.

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Posted 20 January 2021 by Jeremy Domballe, Subject Matter Expert, Maritime & Trade, IHS Markit

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