March 1, 2021

Spotting dark vessels from Iran and Venezuela - Ship-to-ship transfers and missing AIS signals.

Accurately tracking flows of cargoes in commodity markets has been a challenge for a long time with a high level of opacity and secrecy across the industry.

We know that governments and institutions are interested in tracking the flows of cargoes from countries under export sanctions, such as Venezuela and Iran, making sure that their sanctions can be enforced.

At the same time, trading houses and chartering companies require this information to ensure they avoid trading cargoes or chartering vessels from sanctioned origin countries.

Today´s advancements in data sourcing and technology have brought transparency to commodity markets. AIS signals, port calls, commercial reports and satellite imagery, among other data, are collected, processed and with the support of algorithms and AI, produce insights of multi-commodity cargo flows across the globe. 

It would be naive to think however, that these advancements would suffice to detect all vessel activities. Countries under sanctions are always trying to slip cargoes under the radar using various methods to make their exports untraceable. 

From vessels going dark (switching their AIS transponder off), using ship-to-ship transfers to avoid detection, or counterfeiting commercial reports, sanctioned countries are trying different creative methods to export their cargo.

At Kpler, we are always looking for ways to provide relevant insights to our clients. For this reason, our team of experienced analysts are focused on scouting the data we hold, looking for anomalies and inconsistencies that might indicate hidden moves in the market.

Here we present two examples where our analysts have identified hidden moves in the market:


Ship-to-ship transfers and hidden AIS signals from Iran

It is common for VLGCs transporting Iranian LPG cargoes to switch off their AIS transponders upon entering the Mideast Gulf and then reappear several days later with draft level change indicating a full load. 

This allows Kpler analysts to capture the loading despite vessels’ attempts to remain undetected.  Example of detected Iranian loading:



Identification of a dark Vessel from Iran

Even after the loading of Iranian cargo took place, the companies behind this transaction are attempting to hide the true origin of the cargo by performing ship-to-ship operations at sea (common areas for STS transfers include Sharjah Anchorage [UAE] and Nipah Anchorage [Indonesia]). 

 Thanks to Kpler’s proprietary technology for identifying these STS operations, we can always provide clients with the true origin and destination of the cargo even if it has been transferred between vessels at sea. 


Spotting dark vessels from Venezuela (ship-to-ship transfer)

Following U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, attempts to obfuscate trading operations have been escalating around Port of Jose, the main crude oil export hub of the South American country. Similar to Iranian tactics, supertankers are covering up trade activity by turning off their AIS. 

Seasoned Kpler analysts are successful in monitoring these kinds of events to reflect market-representative data. This is possible through their expertise in integrating data from multiple sources and leveraging Kpler’s robust partnerships with data providers around the world. 

Identification of a dark vessel from Venezuela

Aframax PVT Athena’s clandestine loading out of Venezuela is a good example of these dark vessels that Kpler’s analyst team brings to light. Immediately after traversing the Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean in late August 2020, the ship went dark for more than a month, popping back up on the radar in October, just as it passed the Cape of Good Hope.

Despite the long gap, Kpler analysts put the missing pieces together and confirmed that PVT Athena fully loaded Merey crude from Port of Jose in mid-September. We followed the complete voyage of this vessel to Asia, where it transferred its cargo to another vessel that eventually discharged the crude oil in China.


Kpler’s dedicated analysts continue to bring market transparency to their clients, with the highest levels of commitment that the industry trusts.

See why the most successful traders and shipping experts use Kpler.

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