Satellites to join dark fleet fight

The fight against the “dark fleet” is set to receive a new weapon with the launch of two satellites which will aid the ability to monitor every ship on the world’s seas.

Unseenlabs, a specialist in radio frequency (RF) data and solutions dedicated to maritime vessel geolocation has announced the upcoming launch of BRO-10 and BRO-11, the 10th and 11th satellites of its constellation committed to ships detection at sea. The satellites are scheduled to lift off no earlier than November 2023 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 via Exolaunch for the Transporter-9 Mission.

The company said the deployment will enhance a constellation of satellites equipped with technology capable of detecting electromagnetic waves from space.

The company said the technology is specifically designed to detect ship activities in the open sea.

“Our technology allows us to track non-cooperative vessels, also known as “Dark Ships.” These are ships that switch off their cooperative beacons to become invisible and engage in various infringements at sea (illegal fishing, illicit trafficking, and reckless oil discharges,” a spokesperson explained. “Our technology can detect them because we concentrate on the passive emissions produced by the ships.

“As soon as there is an electronic system on board, we detect the presence of the ship and pinpoint its location on a map that we then provide to our partners.”

Those partners include  governments, marine insurers, carriers, and NGOs.

The dark fleet refers to tankers and other vessels that engage in dark activities, such as disabling their AIS, or using deceptive shipping practices to transport crude oil, chemicals, and other wet cargo.

The size of this fleet has varied substantially as a range of sanctions are imposed on countries across the world. The Russin invasion of Ukraine  saw  wide ranging sanctions imposed on Russia including a ban on the export of its oil and there with each new regulation, and even more so following the Russian oil ban While the user of dark vessels has been an issue for many years, The Russian invasion has seen a significant leap in the size of the dark fleet. US broadcaster CNN estimates that more than 10% of large tankers are already involved in illegal activity and that number continues to grow.

Unseenlabs said its RF data, enables detailed vessel characterisation and precise geolocation. “As the global maritime landscape experiences a surge in ship activities, the necessity for a technology that extends reliable, large-scale monitoring is paramount,” it explained.

“The extended satellite fleet signifies not merely an enlargement of operational scope, but also an enhanced ability to monitor and characterize vessels globally, underscoring a tangible commitment to safeguarding marine assets and environments against illicit activities and threats,” it explained.

Jonathan Galic, CTO and co-founder of Unseenlabs, added:  “The deployment of BRO-10 and BRO-11 symbolises a vital juncture in our unwavering commitment to offering technological solutions in maritime surveillance.”