Archives For Data mining

For thousands of years, maritime authorities have relied on tip-offs, patrols, investigations and random inspections to find smuggled goods. Today they have a variety of additional methods at their disposal, and one of the most promising is also the most intuitive: looking at every vessel’s historical behavior.

Israeli firm Windward was founded to collect, vet and analyze AIS, along with a variety of other commercial data sources on maritime traffic. Just having access to the massive quantity of data that the world’s fleet generates is not sufficient: it could take weeks for a human operator to sift through the records of just a few hundred ships, and law enforcement agencies need actionable intelligence in real time.

This is where Windward excels. Its system uses proprietary algorithms to find specific ships that may be involved in illicit activity based on a number of “red flag” behaviors. Loitering just off of a village or an uninhabited bay may be a sign that a vessel is engaged in tendering goods or passengers from shore. Similarly, when a ship turns off its AIS transmitter or changes its AIS reporting name near smuggling hotspots, it may be taking on contraband. And a ship with a well-established trading pattern that suddenly heads to a troubled region may be engaged in a new (and not entirely legitimate) line of business.

These behaviors are obvious when Ami Daniel, Windward’s CEO and co-founder, walks through a few examples in a live presentation. The novel development isn’t the signal pattern – it is the fact that his firm can automatically find it, without knowing which ships to examine in advance. It doesn’t matter if a vessel is operated by a reputable company or a known North Korean front – Windward’s system analyzes records for the entire fleet, and if a vessel looks suspicious, it gets flagged.

A few cases illustrate the potential of this approach. In Windward’s best-known example, a Cyprus-flagged reefer with a history of trading between Northern Europe and West Africa headed to a port in Ukraine – well outside its normal pattern. It returned towards the Strait of Gibraltar, but before passing through to the Atlantic, it lingered off of Algeria and Morocco for 12 days. It turned its AIS on and off multiple times in busy shipping lanes during this loitering period. Windward notes that this region is at high risk for the smuggling of arms and narcotics.

After passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, the vessel headed north towards Scotland, where it arrived on January 14. It loitered again for half a day in a small bay off the isle of Islay – an area without a port for a 4,200 dwt ship. Windward’s system flagged this behavior as a potential sign of a smuggling drop-off, though it is also possible that the ship anchored up to wait out foul weather or to time its arrival.

This particular case made headlines in the UK when Windward told media that hundreds of vessels with suspicious records entered British waters in the first two months of 2017. The story was picked up by the Global Mail, Sky News and the Daily Record, and Scottish politicians called on the authorities to look into the matter: “This requires investigation, certainly by the police and, I suspect, by the security authorities to clarify what’s going on,” said member of Scottish Parliament Mike Russell.

These results capture attention, and Daniel says that the firm is marketing the system’s abilities to multiple government agencies. The kind of smuggling/trafficking behavior that it can identify is often associated with organized crime and the financing of terrorism, so it has a great deal of appeal for intelligence applications as well as maritime security / maritime domain awareness. He suggests that for now, commercial users (traders, brokers and others) are not a target market, nor does he foresee branching out into similar offerings for trucking or air freight. Windward does one thing well – very well – and Daniel expects that it will invest in its core strength for some time to come. Original article published in The Maritime Executive.

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The word ‘reform’ is a constant in the daily life of a customs officer. No customs administration among the 177 members of the World Customs Organization has not had a reform program in progress or planned. This is ultimately quite normal.A new World Bank publication “Reform by Numbers” will no doubt appeal to customs and tax reform experts and change agents.

It was written in the context of new and innovative policies for customs and tax administration reform. Eight chapters describe how measurement and various quantification techniques may be used to fight against corruption, improve cross-border celerity, boost revenue collection, and optimize the use of public resources. More than presenting ‘best practices’ and due to the association of academics and practitioners, the case studies explore the conditions under which measurement has been introduced and the effects on the administrative structure, and its relations with the political authority and the users. By analyzing the introduction of measurement to counter corruption and improve revenue collection in Cameroon, two chapters describe to which extent the professional culture has changed and what effects have been noted or not on the public accountability of fiscal administrations. Two other chapters present experiments of uses of quantification to develop risk analysis in Cameroon and Senegal.

By using mirror analysis on the one hand and data mining on the other hand, these two examples highlight the importance of automated customs clearance systems which collect daily extensive data on users, commodities flows and officials. One chapter develops the idea of measuring smuggling to improve the use of human and material resources in Algeria and nurture the questioning on the adaptation of a legal framework to the social context of populations living near borders. Finally, two examples of measurement policies, in France and in South Korea, enlighten the diversity of measurement, the specificities of developing countries and the convergences between developing and developed countries on common stakes such as trade facilitation and better use of public funds.

The “gaming effect” is well known in literature about performance measurement and contracts performance, because there is a risk of reduced performance where targets do not apply, which is detrimental to the overall reform. It is crucial to keep in mind that, by themselves, indicators “provide an incomplete and inaccurate picture” and therefore cannot wholly capture the reality on the ground. Measurement indicators must be carefully chosen to ensure that knowledge is being uncovered.

Measurement, for purposes of reform, should not be “copied and pasted” from one country to another. Due consideration must be given to the varying aims of the customs service and the specific political, social, economic, and administrative conditions in the country.

Measurement applied to experimentation is also about how donors, experts, and national administrations work together. On the one hand, national administrations in developing countries ask for technical assistance, standards, and expertise that are based on experiences of developing countries and use experts from such countries.These requests encourage the dissemination of such models. On the other hand, reforms of customs or tax administrations are represented as semi-failures in terms of the initial expected outcomes set by donors and politicians – usually the end of a reform is the time when donors and local administrations become aware of the gaps of their own representations of success.

While scientific and academic in approach, lets hope it means more than just miserable experimentation in target countries.

The book is available for free reading online – www.scribd.com or you can purchase from amazon.com.