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Understanding AIS Spoofing: The Case of the Shanaye Queen

More Data Storytelling

Among the many types of deceptive shipping practices, Automatic Identification System (AIS) manipulation is one of the most difficult to detect without advanced tracking solutions.

AIS manipulation, or ‘spoofing’ to use the more common term, refers to a vessel deliberately transmitting false positional data to pretend to be in one location, when it is in fact in another.

Spoofing has been a tactic used by parties wanting to conceal illicit or sanctions-evading maritime activity for many years, particularly by tankers calling at Venezuelan and Iranian ports.


The Shanaye Queen Case Study

On July 28, 2023, the Malaysian-flagged suezmax tanker, Shanaye Queen (IMO: 9242118), raised eyebrows when it seemingly executed an impossibly rapid diversion to Pakistan’s Karachi anchorage. At 1400 GMT, Lloyd’s List Intelligence vessel-tracking showed the Shanaye Queen sailing in ballast in the middle of the Indian Ocean, heading for the Gulf of Oman. Suddenly, the tanker appears to have covered nearly 200 nautical miles in less than 10 hours; the next Automatic Identification Signal (AIS) from Shanaye Queen reveals it now at anchor, in waters off Karachi.

According to the Shanaye Queen’s AIS, the tanker spends the next 16 days there.


Unveiling the Deception

Upon closer scrutiny, the coordinates signalled by the Shanaye Queen's AIS raised red flags, exposing the improbability of its reported course and speed over ground. The subsequent trajectory further confirmed suspicions, as the vessel swiftly departed from Karachi back into the Indian Ocean within eight hours, this time laden with cargo. The cause behind these perplexing movements became clear – AIS spoofing.


Manipulating the System

The Shanaye Queen had manipulated its AIS satellite system to mask its true location, a tactic increasingly employed for activities such as loading Iranian cargoes in violation of US sanctions. While the tanker appeared to be stationary in Karachi, it likely sailed to Iranian waters to take on another US-sanctioned cargo, highlighting the widespread use of spoofing in evading regulatory measures.


Uncovering Complicity

Further evidence of the Shanaye Queen's deceptive practices emerged from AIS receivers in Bahrain, revealing its involvement in shuttling and storing Iranian crude cargoes through ship-to-ship transfers in various locations. False bills of lading connected to the tanker further compounded the deception, fraudulently declaring the cargo's origin as either Iraq or a "Malaysian blend."


Past Warnings Ignored

The tanker's dubious activities were not isolated incidents. In January 2021, Danish tanker operator Maersk Tankers had aborted a ship-to-ship transfer with the Shanaye Queen after discovering that the oil cargo was of Iranian, not Iraqi, origin. This history of complicity underscores the need for robust measures to detect and prevent such deceptive practices.


There has been a 50% rise in spoofing cases in the past year, mainly driven by vessels looking to circumvent Russian oil price restrictions and other sanctions imposed by Western governments. More cases are expected as regulators step up enforcement.

For many screening professionals it is extremely difficult to reliably identify spoofing, which is why Lloyd’s List Intelligence have introduced a ground-breaking methodology to help you accurately detect this deceptive activity for all major vessel types, globally.

Using Seasearcher Advanced Risk & Compliance to detect spoofing will help you:

  • Enhance Screening Processes: Seamlessly integrate advanced spoofing detection to fortify your compliance protocols.
  • Real-time Identification: Save valuable time by leveraging real-time data to promptly uncover spoofing attempts.
  • Reduce False Positives: Streamline your risk assessment by minimizing false positives and focusing on genuine threats.
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