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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.

Get ready for a crazy roller coaster ride…As is already well known, the current situation in the shipping world is that there is a large lack of demand against the current overall supply of container space. Today, the current fleet capacity is around 15.5 million TEUs. Since 2005, the total capacity has roughly doubled – literally.

Because of the imbalance of supply/demand, carriers are losing blood and even declaring a negative balance sheet for end of 2012. This situation pushes them to the dilemma of getting bigger or getting smaller. Getting bigger means buying new, larger ships. These ships allow carriers to improve their cost effectiveness, work with smaller crews and lower their capital costs. On the other hand, some carriers are getting smaller; serving more niche markets where larger vessels will not call since that will reduce the efficiency of the vessel. You can imagine that a 15,000 TEU ship will not make 3 ports in the same country – if that country is not China.

These are the things we see and hear everyday. However a more important game is being played behind the scenes which has a crucial effect on the whole industry. According to Bloomberg; DNB ASA, the world’s largest arranger of shipping loans, expects the shipping industry to have a funding gap of $100 billion by 2015, as European banks are reducing their support to maritime transport. Even if US and Asian banks have an increased interest on maritime loans; EU banks account for 90% of the global ship lending. Considering net shipping loan losses at Nordea Bank AB (NDA), the world’s No. 4 shipping lender, tripled to 135 million euros ($179 million) last year because of “weak market conditions” and “a general decline in vessel values”, everyone will be thinking twice before granting a loan. In addition to that, since there will be less vessel orders with reduced prices, it will be forcing some yards to close in the following 12 to 18 months.

How is this going to affect exporters/importers? That’s our major question of course. Considering several factors; the EU Crisis, US getting out of recession, Arab spring is over; it will take another couple of years to get on track for sure. According to HSBC Global Connections, despite the current climate, the overall trend for international trade is positive with growth acceleration sooner than expected from 2014, than 2015. Over the next 5 years an annualized growth rate of %3.78 is forecasted for international trade. The main countries that will be carrying the growth are China and India, and China is expected to have an annualized growth of 6.60% in imports and 6.61% on exports; while India is expected to have 6.81% growth in imports and 7.60% in their exports from 2012 to 2016.

Now, according to 2010 stats, worldwide container traffic reached 560 million TEUs – an all-time high. China & Hong Kong Ports handle close to 169 milllion TEUs, 18% of this traffic. We need to keep in mind though, this is not only China exports/imports but also transshipped cargo that goes via those ports to other Asian nations.

With that in mind, if we take the growth rate with an average 6% for that region and multiply this with 169 million, we come up with a possible increase of 30 million TEUs annually and 500,000 TEUs weekly basis increase only in the region that handles %18 of global trade.Now, lets go back to the supply side. The major banks will be reducing loans, there will be less ship orders and there will be less ship yards to build new ships. How is this going to affect the years 2014-15 and later?

Can Fidan believes very tough years will come for exporters/importers in the sense of shipping costs and finding available space. Prepare to see more of the complaints from exporters not being able to find space and getting asked to pay very high freight charges like we were seeing in 2010. However, this time the difference will be, there won’t be any idle vessels sitting in Singapore or any new ordered vessels to come in and let everyone breath. Considering today, this sounds improbable… Well? the facts are out there and they show that the roller coaster ride we are on will just get crazier. Source: Can Fidan, MTS Logistics