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Navigating Dangerous Waters: The Abyss and the Battle Against Deceptive Shipping Practices

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Written by: Eric Orsini, Head of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs, Lloyd’s List Intelligence

In a world where the sea is a vital conduit for international trade, understanding the integrity of maritime operations is paramount. However, the waters are muddied by deceptive practices that not only breach international laws, but also threaten global commerce. The case of the vessel Abyss, flagged by Palau, serves as a stark reminder of the risks lurking in the shadows of the shipping industry.


The Abyss: A Deep Dive into AIS Spoofing 

In November 2020, data in Seasearcher Advanced Risk and Compliance brought to light the deceptive manoeuvres of the vessel The Abyss. The advanced algorithms detected not just gaps in its Automatic Identification System (AIS) messages but also illicit ship-to-ship transfers and probable dark port calls. These actions, particularly the gaps in messaging that were identified as AIS spoofing*, marked the Abyss with a red flag, for engaging in activities identified as designed to deliberately deceive.

* What is Spoofing: A vessel that deliberately transmits false AIS data in order to conceal its true location

Source: Seasearcher Advanced Risk & Compliance


Fast forward to March 2023, the Abyss was involved in an operation that saw it providing fraudulent documentation to mask the Iranian origin of its cargo, loaded from Bandar Mahshahr, Iran. This act of deception led to a U.S. seizure warrant for the cargo, highlighting the complexities and risks associated with maritime trade. Read more here: Iranian fuel oil unknowingly loaded by Euronav storage tanker in March was seized by US.


Source: Seasearcher Advanced Risk & Compliance


The Power of SeaTech™ Against Deception

The Abyss case underscores the critical role of technology, using sophisticated methodologies that are built on accurate data, and managed by experts, like Seasearcher Advanced Risk & Compliance, in identifying and mitigating risks in shipping practices. By providing accurate risk ratings and analysis, the platform empowers users to conduct thorough due diligence, ensuring compliance and informed decisions.

Seasearcher platforms are powered by SeaTech™, a unique combination of technology, human intelligence and analytics.


Source: Lloyd's List Intelligence


Due Diligence: The Key to Navigating Compliance

In the face of evolving geopolitical challenges, and recent regulatory guidance, that further emphasises the importance of Vessel Due Diligence (VDD) in maintaining the integrity of maritime operations, maintaining sanctions and export control compliance has never been more crucial.

The following steps outline how customers are building a comprehensive VDD process:

  • Identify the Ports: Knowing the port of loading and discharge is essential.
  • Conduct Thorough VDD: Confirm the shipping route, review the vessel's movement history, screen its owners/operators, and ensure it's appropriate for the transaction.
  • Obtain Documentation: Ensure you have all necessary compliance documents.
  • Monitor Ongoing Compliance: Keep an eye on the vessel's arrival at the discharge port.

Additionally, identifying third-party intermediaries and confirming the parties involved in the transaction are crucial steps in a robust due diligence process.


The Call to Action for Maritime Industry Professionals

The Abyss incident serves as a wake-up call for those in the maritime space. Whether you're involved in USD cross-border transactions, trade finance activities, or cargo movement, understanding your holistic risk profile is crucial. Knowing your cargo and vessel as thoroughly as you know your customer, and ensuring your compliance program is rigorously objective, are vital steps in safeguarding against the pitfalls of deceptive shipping practices.

As the maritime industry navigates through turbulent waters, the Abyss case is a stark reminder of the importance of vigilance, technology, and due diligence. The battle against AIS spoofing and maritime deception is ongoing, Seasearcher Advanced Risk & Compliance offers a beacon of hope, providing critical insights and dark shipping detections for conducting Vessel Due Diligence and mitigating sanctions compliance risks. By embracing these tools and practices, the industry can steer clear of the abyss of non-compliance and secure the integrity of global trade routes.

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