Going Dark and Fake Voyages: The Tricks Used to Dodge Trade Sanctions

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - As the United States looks to enforce sanctions aimed at halting trade with states such as Iran and Venezuela, there's increased scrutiny on the tricks being used to keep commodities flowing to and from blacklisted countries.

Ships vanishing from tracking screens, clandestine transfers on the high seas and fake destinations are among some of the tactics used to hide the business from the authorities, according to analysts who track flows around the world.

Here's a description of how some of those tricks work.

GOING DARK

A common method to transport Iranian oil or North Korean coal with stealth is to turn off the Automatic Identification System, an electronic device that pinpoints a ship's location.

Known as going dark, a vessel flicks the switch before berthing and typically reappears days later, masking the location of its load or discharge port. Ships can sometimes still be tracked by satellites, but even that is limited by scope and weather.

"With the world's oceans so vast, satellite imagery can only look in so many places at once, despite the technological advances in recent years," said Mr Tom Kenison, an analyst at industry consultant FGE. It is also weather dependent, as heavy cloud cover can obscure the view, he said.

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Image | The Straits Times