Oil leaks in Angola’s ‘Golden Block’

Angola has experienced rapid offshore oil development over the last two decades. Much of this development has taken place in offshore Block 17, described as Angola’s ‘Golden Block.’ It is made up of four major hubs – Girassol, Dalia, Pazflor and CLOV (the Cravo, Lirio, Orquidea and Violeta fields) – which were brought into operation between 2001 and 2014.

Image Credit: Acergy SA.

This image, collected on May 28th by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite, shows what appears to be an oil leak from FPSO Girassol, one of four floating production, storage, and offloading units (FPSO) operated by Total in Block 17.

We also found what appears to be oil coming from the FPSO Girassol on May 16th and May 25th, suggesting that there may a chronic leak from the FPSO Girassol or one of the 39 wells and miles of pipelines that connect its two satellite fields – the Jasmim field, located about 4 miles away, and the Rosa field located nearly 9 miles away – and vast subsea production network.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Block 17 and the Girassol Field as Total continues to ramp up production there – and in the ultradeep waters of Block 32 further offshore.

Indonesia’s Fishing Vessel Tracking Data Now Available to the Public

Today, a big announcement was made at The Ocean Conference at the United Nations: the Republic of Indonesia has made its fishing activity data public by allowing it to be published in Global Fishing Watch. This is an unprecedented move — governments that require vessels to use their proprietary vessel management systems (VMS) typically restrict access to the system; data is made available to government and enforcement agencies but not the general public. But Susi Pudjiastuti, the head of Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (the Kementerian Kelautan dan Perikanan RI, or KKP, for short), believes that making government fisheries data visible to the public is a powerful way to engage civil society in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Global Fishing Watch, a joint project of SkyTruth, Oceana and Google, relies on publicly-broadcast Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals, rarely used by vessels in Indonesian waters. AIS tends to be used by larger vessels — typically vessels greater than 300 gross tonnage or longer than 15 meters. Much of the fishing in Indonesian waters is carried out on smaller vessels. If you take a look at Global Fishing Watch with and without Indonesia’s VMS data in Indonesian waters, it’s astonishing to see how much fishing activity is added when the VMS data of the second largest fishing nation in the world is included. Indonesia requires all vessels greater than 30 gross tonnage to use its VMS:

View a larger version here.

Minister Susi is calling for other nations to follow her lead, and the Global Fishing Watch partners are committing to process, for free, VMS data from any country that agrees to make its data public through Global Fishing Watch, for free. Her decision is already making a difference — yesterday at this conference, the Republic of Peru announced (Spanish version) that it too will commit its VMS data to Global Fishing Watch in the near future. We hope that other countries will realize the advantages of transparency and soon follow suit.

Today’s announcement is the culmination of two years of behind-the-scenes work with the KKP. In 2015, during a visit to Google headquarters, Minister Susi saw a demonstration of Global Fishing Watch given by Brian Sullivan of Google Oceans & Earth Outreach and SkyTruth’s Paul Woods, and she expressed interest in having a similar tool that her Ministry could use in fighting IUU fishing. Paul said that he thought such a collaboration might be possible, but that because AIS is generally not used in Indonesian waters, it would be necessary for the KKP to make its own VMS data available to GFW in order for there to be any data to work with. Remarkably, Minister Susi agreed.

Since then, SkyTruth team members have made several trips back and forth to Indonesia to work with KKP staff — processing the data and applying algorithms already used for AIS to the VMS data, and sharing insights about the data with KKP staff that they can use to identify illegal activity and manage Indonesia’s globally important fisheries more effectively. Meetings via Skype and Google Hangouts had to be scheduled early in the morning and late at night so that they could span the vast number of time zones occupied by team members in Europe, the Americas and Southeast Asia. SkyTruth hired Imam Prakoso in Jakarta to meet regularly with the KKP, and recruited Aaron Roan, a former Google engineer, to work with the data and the algorithms.

Starting today, Indonesian VMS data will be part of Global Fishing Watch and available to anyone who wants to view it; the VMS data will be updated daily. In addition, the KKP has been given its own mapping tool to use for monitoring fishing in Indonesian waters. The Indonesian VMS fishing activity data is shown on a separate layer, so that it can be turned on and off as the user wishes.

We’d like to give a shout out to the people and organizations that made today’s announcement possible: to the teams at SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch, to Global Fishing Watch partners Google and Oceana, and to Minister Susi and her staff at the KKP. SkyTruth’s participation in this major effort is made possible by grants from the Walton Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

 

Big Data Brings Big Transparency to Indonesia’s Fisheries

Indonesia is leading the way towards a new era of transparency in fisheries management by making its Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data available to Global Fishing Watch (GFW). This is an unprecedented move.

Traditionally, VMS data is kept secret and used only by government agencies like Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs (KKP) and affiliated enforcement agencies. The head of the KKP, Susi Pudjiastuti, referred to as “Minister Susi” by nearly everyone, is a champion of sustainable fishing in Indonesian waters, and has taken major steps to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Her policy of publicly blowing up and sinking (empty) vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters has been wildly popular. Now that Minister Susi has partnered with GFW, anyone with a browser and internet access will be able to see Indonesia’s VMS data on the GFW map, beginning in June.

People photographing an illegal fishing vessel being intentionally sunk by Minister Susi at Morela village on Ambon Island, April 1, 2017. Antara Foto/Izaac Mulyawan/via REUTERS

Data Scientist Aaron Roan is taking the lead at SkyTruth to integrate Indonesia’s VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. A former Googler, Aaron joined the SkyTruth team officially in January, but he has been involved in the GFW project for a while, on loan from Google as a volunteer. Like many SkyTruthers, Aaron works remotely, usually from San Francisco. However, this project means that lately he’s traveling regularly to Indonesia.

SkyTruthers Aaron Roan (left) and Paul Woods sightseeing in Jakarta during The Economist World Ocean Summit 2017.

Aaron is in charge of integrating VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. Naturally, there have been some interesting challenges and adventures along the way, starting with some pretty big differences between AIS data, which GFW is currently using, and VMS data.

AIS is a well-established and standardized open system developed to keep ships from running into each other, while VMS systems are custom-created specifically to allow government fishing agencies to privately monitor and communicate with vessels. Ships using AIS are essentially just chirping their locations to the world (“I’m here, I’m here!”) using public radio airwaves. VMS systems are more like text-messaging systems on phones, sending and receiving encrypted, privacy-protected information.

Vessel congestion is often an issue for AIS: the satellites that collect AIS broadcasts from vessels have a circular “footprint” 3,000 miles wide (more than the width of the United States) and the system can only receive an AIS ping once every 27 milliseconds, or 2,250 per minute. If there is a lot of vessel traffic in one location, smaller vessels using the weaker class B AIS systems get throttled in preference to larger class A vessels. This means that it’s possible for a vessel to be chirping its location frequently, but when there are a lot of ships in the area, pings may only be infrequently received.

VMS systems can handle a lot more signals than AIS, and better manage problems like colliding messages from multiple ships. However, the cost per message is relatively expensive, so government agencies often dial the systems back to receive fewer messages from ships in a given time period. According to Aaron, if Aesop were still around, he would call VMS the tortoise, and AIS the hare.

Despite these differences, initial integration test results have been positive, with the VMS data adding a tremendous amount of new data to GFW. Below, you can see the difference between Global Fishing Watch with and without the VMS data. AIS data is shown in green and the new Indonesian VMS data in white:

You can see it here in full-screen mode:

We are lucky to have Imam Prakoso, our “on-the-ground” guy in Indonesia, working on this project. With his engineering background, he provides support to the analysis and helps out with language translation. He’s been pivotal in terms of being able to meet regularly with KKP staff and in navigating the ministry’s organizational structure.

Brian Sullivan, Paul Woods, Imam Prakoso and Aaron in Jakarta

Chris Wilcox‘s team at CSIRO, currently consulting with the KKP, has been hugely helpful as well. With our data and algorithms, and his analytical acumen, we believe we’re in a strong position to help out multiple teams within the KKP.

None of this would have been possible without Minister Susi’s innovative approach to fighting IUU fishing, and the generous financial support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.

Transparency in commercial fishing benefits everyone (with the possible exception of those engaging in illegal activities). More accurate data in commercial fishing will allow for better regulation, management, and sustainability of an important food and job source in the future. We hope that other governments will follow Minister Susi’s bold initiative and make their own fishing data transparent. With Aaron on the team now, we’re ready to help!

Radar Imagery Shows Possible Slick From Oil Platform Off Peru’s Coast

Traditional sail powered fishing craft below Oil Platform 10 on the Peruvian north coast.

Last month we learned of an oil slick that had been sighted off the north coast of Peru in proximity to a number of offshore platforms. The slick was first observed by local fishermen in January and was reported in the pressAt the time SAVIA Perú, which operates platforms in the area, stated that they had inspected their facilities and were not responsible for the leak.

We’ve now had a look at Sentinel-1 satellite radar imagery of the area over the past few months. This imagery, provided by the European Space Agency, does show a possible oil slick extending about 14 miles from one offshore platform on February 3rd. Imagery from the weeks before and after the reported slick may also show some evidence of chronic leaks in the area. 

While initial reports in the press named Platform 10 in the area as the likely source, the imagery shows a possible slick extending from a different platform, Peña Negra TT (PNGR TT), also operated by SAVIA as part of lot Z-2B. A dive support vessel Urubamba is also seen alongside another platform further south (PNGR BB) indicating there may be ongoing maintenance on oil infrastructure in the region.

Sentinel-1 imagery from Feb 3, 2017 showing a possible oil slick extending from a platform on the Cabo Blanco area of Peru’s north coast. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

Two additional Sentinel-1 images are below, from March 11, 2017 and April 16, 2017.  On March 11th we again see a possible oil slick extending south 1.8 miles from platform PNGR TT. However other larger dark patches also appear on this image making it difficult to interpret. These patches are areas of relatively flat water which could result from a sheen of oil on the water’s surface but could also be from other causes such as blooms of phytoplankton or even an area of heavy rainfall. Recent imagery from April 16th shows no indication of any oil slicks in the area.

Sentinel-1 imagery from March 11, 2017 again showing a possible slick extending south from well PNGR TT. Large dark patches to the west indicate areas of still water. Image of courtesy European Space Agency.

Sentinel-1 imagery from April 16, 2017 shows no indication of possible oil slicks in the area. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

Along with extensive oil infrastructure, this area has the highest marine biodiversity on Peru’s coast and for that reason has been proposed as part of a new marine protected area. Under proposed legislation oil companies operating in the area could continue provided they complied with environmental regulations. We can’t be certain who was responsible for the oil washing ashore a few months ago but as this imagery shows there is reason for concern regarding this particular platform (PNGR TT) and continued monitoring of oil platforms in this area will be essential if this unique environment is going to be protected.

 

 

 

Imágenes de radar muestran posible derrame de petróleo proveniente de una plataforma de la costa norte del Perú

29 de abril 2017 / por Bjorn Bergman

Tradicionales embarcaciones pesqueras con velas pasan por debajo de la plataforma petrolera 10 en la costa norte de Perú.

El mes pasado nos enteramos de un derrame de petróleo que fue visto en la área de Cabo Blanco en la costa norte de Perú en proximidad a unas plataformas petroleras. El derrame fue observado por primera vez por unos pescadores locales en enero y se informó a la prensa. A el momento SAVIA Perú, que opera plataformas en el área, declaró que habían inspeccionado sus instalaciones y no eran responsables por la fuga.

Ahora hemos examinado imágenes del radar satelital Sentinel-1 durante los últimos meses. La imágen del 3 de febrero, proporcionada por la Agencia Espacial Europea, muestra un posible derrame de petróleo que se extiende a unos 22 kilómetros de una plataforma petrolera. Las imágenes de las semanas anteriores y posteriores a esta fecha también pueden mostrar alguna evidencia de fugas crónicas en el área.

Mientras que los reportes iniciales en la prensa nombraron una Plataforma 10 como la fuente probable, estas imágenes muestran un posible derrame que se extiende desde una plataforma diferente, Peña Negra TT (PNGR TT) también operada por SAVIA como parte del lote Z-2B. También se observó un buque de apoyo de buceo, DSV Urubamba,  junto a otra plataforma más al sur (PNGR BB) lo que podría indicar que se realiza  mantenimiento en la infraestructura petrolera de la región.

Imagen del Sentinel-1 de 3 de febrero 2017 mostrando un posible derrame que se extiende de una plataforma en la área de Cabo Blanco en la costa norte del Perú. Imagen cortesía de la Agencia Espacial Europea.

Dos adicionales imagenes Sentinel-1 están por debajo, del 11 de marzo y del 16 de abril de 2017. En el 11 de marzo volvemos a ver un posible derrame que se extiende 3 kilómetros de la plataforma PNGR TT pero debido a la presencia de unas manchas oscuras más grandes al oeste se torna difícil interpretar lo que aparece en la imagen. Estas manchas oscuras son áreas de agua relativamente plana que podría ser el resultado de la presencia de petróleo en la superficie del agua, pero tambien podria ser de otras causas, como las floraciones de fitoplancton o incluso lluvias fuertes. Un imagen reciente del 16 de abril no indica ningún posible derrame de petróleo en la zona.

Imagen del Sentinel-1 del 11 de marzo de 2017 que otra vez muestra un posible derrame de petróleo que se extiende al sur de la plataforma PNGR TT. Las grandes manchas oscuras al oeste indican áreas de agua mas calmada. Imagen cortesía de la Agencia Espacial Europea.

Imagen de Sentinel-1 de 16 de abril de 2017 que no muestra indicaciones de petróleo en la agua. Imagen cortesía de la Agencia Espacial Europea.

Junto con una extensa infraestructura petrolera, esta área tiene la mayor biodiversidad marina en la costa peruana y por eso se ha propuesto como parte de una nueva área marina protegida. Según la legislación propuesta, las compañías petroleras que operan en la zona podrían continuar siempre que cumplieran con las regulaciones ambientales. No podemos estar seguros de quién fue responsable por el petróleo que llegó a la playa de Cabo Blanco hace unos meses, pero con estas imágenes se puede mostrar que hay motivo de preocupación por una plataforma en particular (PNGR TT) y que el monitoreo continuo de plataformas de petróleo en esta área sería esencial si este ambiente único va a estar protegido.

Taking the “Secret” out of Rendezvous at Sea

In January, SkyTruth reported on our work with DigitalGlobe to identify and photograph refrigerated cargo vessels (reefers) in the Western Indian Ocean. The goal was to capture high-resolution images of vessels that our analyst had painstakingly targeted for suspicious behavior by monitoring and analyzing their movements based on signals from their Automatic Identification System (AIS) broadcasts. We targeted reefers because they are key to transshipment—they receive catch transferred from multiple fishing vessels and carry it to port. The practice, called transshipment, saves fishing vessels time and fuel, but it is illegal in many cases because it can enable illegally caught fish to be mixed with legal catch.

The images DigitalGlobe acquired in November revealed multiple instances of reefers in rendezvous with other vessels, including fishing vessels. Now, in collaboration with Global Fishing Watch, SkyTruth data scientists have made the job of targeting reefers much easier. Together, the team has developed an artificial intelligence system capable of identifying and tracking transshipments around the world by following reefers and classifying their movements. An analysis of 21 billion AIS signals from ships at sea has created the first-ever global map of transshipment.

Today, SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch are publishing those results in a new report: The Global View of Transshipment: Preliminary Findings. According to our analysis, from 2012 through 2016, there were more than 86,490 potential transshipments in which reefers exhibited the slow movements indicative of transshipment. Of those, 5,065 were likely transshipments because they included a rendezvous with an AIS-broadcasting fishing vessel — meaning they traveled at a specified slow speed in close proximity to one another for a certain length of time that indicated a likely transshipment.

This image of the reefer Hai Feng 648 with an unidentified fishing vessel off the coast of Argentina is just one of the images acquired on Nov 30, 2016 in collaboration with DigitalGlobe. (DigitalGlobe © 2017)

Like most activity that occurs on the ocean, transshipment has been hidden from the world. This report shines a new light over the horizon, revealing the extent and magnitude of transshipment. Based on the data generated by SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch during this project, our partners at Oceana are publishing a complementary report today that highlights the global scale of transshipment and its complicity in illegal fishing and human rights abuses. The report identifies hotspots of transshipment and the ports that reefers visit, exposing associations between transshipment and illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activity.

The refrigerated cargo vessel (reefer) Leelawadee seen on November 30, 2016 with two unidentified likely fishing vessels tied alongside was featured in our post on January 16. (DigitalGlobe © 2017)

Oceana’s report calls for the banning of transshipment at sea, expanded mandates for unique identifiers and vessel tracking for fishing vessels. Currently AIS is not required on all vessels, and fishing vessels engaged in illegal activity are known to turn off their AIS when they don’t want to be seen. Having access to high-resolution satellite imagery is a game-changer when it comes to illuminating these rendezvous, especially when only one of the vessels is broadcasting AIS. That’s why we are thrilled to be working with the folks at DigitalGlobe, who are donating time and imagery from their powerful WorldView satellites to demonstrate that we can systematically shine a spotlight on these transshipment events at sea. In partnering with SkyTruth, DigitalGlobe shows how corporations and nonprofits can join together to solve some of the world’s thorniest problems.

 

Mystery Moves: What is the Chinese Squid Fleet Doing in the Pacific?

Over the past couple of months, SkyTruth analyst Bjorn Bergman has been watching some interesting activity by the Chinese fishing fleet in the Pacific. A large Chinese flagged squid-fishing fleet had been fishing at the boundary of Peru’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) throughout the summer and fall of 2016. Then, near the middle of December, many of them suddenly began migrating some 3,000 miles to the northwest.

At their new location, around 118 degrees West longitude and just north of the equator, they met up with another group of Chinese-flagged vessels. These vessels had just moved to this remote part of the Pacific about a week or two earlier. Some arrived from China and Indonesia, and some came directly from fishing just outside the Japanese EEZ.

This screen shot from the Global Fishing Watch map shows the movement of 55 Chinese flagged vessels from early November 2016 through February 5, 2017. You can see vessels moving to a single location around 118 degrees West longitude from the western Pacific (red tracks), and from the squid fishing grounds just outside the Peru EEZ (blue tracks). Some vessels off the Peru EEZ also moved south to Argentina. You will find a link to see these tracks on the live map at the bottom of this post.

This nighttime VIIRS imagery from the Suomi-NPP satellite, taken on January 29, shows the lights of Chinese squid fishing vessels in the Pacific.

When fishing for squid, fishers use powerful lights to attract the animals to the surface for an easy catch. This nighttime VIIRS imagery from the Suomi-NPP satellite, taken on January 29, 2017, shows the lights of Chinese squid fishing vessels off of Peru, and at the new location in the middle of the Pacific.

The same pattern is seen using satellite signals from fishing vessels.

This the Global Fishing Watch heat map shows the AIS signals from fishing vessels from January 9 to February 2, 2017. With one fishing track defined in blue, we can see the path of the Chinese squid fleet moving from just outside the Peru EEZ to a location on the high seas.

This Global Fishing Watch heat map shows the AIS signals from fishing vessels from January 9 to February 2, 2017. With one fishing track defined in blue, we can see the path of the Chinese squid fleet moving from just outside the Peru EEZ to a location on the high seas.

The new location of these vessels is not known for squid. It is also an unlikely habitat as squid usually live near continental shelves and canyons where there are steep changes in water depth. It’s unclear what the vessels are fishing for now, but the sudden move from the eastern Pacific may be a reflection of a dwindling catch.

Usually Chinese flagged squid fishers operating around South America concentrate off of Peru in the Pacific and Argentina in the Atlantic Ocean. For the past few years, some squid-fishing fleets have seen their catch decline in both regions.  Undercurrent News reports that some Taiwanese boat captains abandoned squid altogether because of low catch. They are now targeting Pacific saury (mackerel pike), which is found in the north Pacific.

Perhaps the Chinese fleet around South America has also given up on catching squid. We noted that when many of the Chinese vessels off Peru began moving to the northwest, some of them turned south, headed for Argentina, but according to Undercurrent, Chinese captains who moved to Argentina said they wish they had stayed in Peru because the catch was so bad.

The fleet that stayed in Peru may not have fared much better. By February 7, only three Chinese squid-fishing vessels remained in that location. Why so many have moved some 3,000 km to the northwest, and what they’re fishing for now remains a mystery to us. Whatever it is, it’s also drawn a crowd of Chinese vessels from the western Pacific. We checked in with the Southern Pacific Regional Management Organization that has jurisdiction over the area, and even they are not sure what the sudden change in location by this fleet means. 

We would be very interested to hear from anyone who can help explain it.

Click here to see these vessels on the Global Fishing Watch Map where you can manipulate the time frame, zoom in, add vessels. Note: you will need to be registered to access the map (it’s free). If you are already a registered user, and the map link isn’t working, please log in then copy the link into your browser. http://globalfishingwatch.org/map/workspace/udw-627b8ae0-02f3-4fd1-b080-119462b69c8c 

Satellites Leave No Place to Hide for Rogue Thai Fishing Fleet

Despite a dearth of monitoring and law enforcement in the remote Saya de Malha bank, there’s nothing secret about what’s going on in this distant area of the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.

Last month, Greenpeace published a report asserting that a significant number of Thai fishing vessels have repeatedly moved their operations, which were shown to include illegal fishing and human trafficking, to evade detection and capture, and that they may now be acting with impunity on the Saya de Malha bank more than 7,000 km from their home port in Thailand.

As we know, seeing is believing, and in collaboration with DigitalGlobe, we have obtained high-resolution satellite images that corroborate Greenpeace’s assertions and reveal just how active the fleet is. Since November, we have documented Thai vessels gathering in one specific location on the Saya de Malha bank for the apparent transfer of fish.

The report, “Turn the Tide: Human Rights Abuse and Illegal Fishing of Thailand’s Overseas Fishing Industry,” outlines the Thai fleet’s exodus: first from their staple fishing grounds in Indonesian waters to a remote region off of Papua New Guinea, then to the Saya de Malha Bank. The evasive moves correspond to the hardline stance against illegal fishing by Indonesia in 2014 that included blowing up illegal vessels, and to subsequent increases in enforcement by Papua New Guinea in August of 2015.

The imagery we’ve captured from Saya de Malha Bank is part of a larger effort to gather high resolution satellite imagery of ocean surface around refrigerated cargo vessels in different parts of the world. With their large carrying capacity, these refrigerated vessels, called “reefers,” collect catch from multiple fishing vessels for transport to shore.

Not only does this type of transshipment allow the fishing fleet to continue working the fishing grounds for months, or even years at a time, but it facilitates the mixing of legal and illegal catch, which is why it is prohibited in many circumstances. What’s more, fishing vessels that remain at sea almost indefinitely have greater potential for abusive labor practices, including the enslavement of crew. The move by the Thai fleet to Saya de Malha almost requires the use of reefers as an efficient way of transporting catch to the home port from such distant fishing grounds.

Using AIS signals from known reefer vessels, we identified precise locations for aiming DigitalGlobe’s satellite sensors. With the knowledge that fishing vessels often don’t broadcast AIS while engaged in illegal activities such as unauthorized transshipment, we were interested in finding out if we could capture suspect vessels using imagery in the vicinity of a reefer.

One of the reefers we chose for imaging, the Thai vessel Leelawadee, seemed a good target. “I saw that it was stopped at the north end of the bank,” says our analyst Bjorn Bergman. “It’s in a location where it may be shallow enough to anchor.” In addition, Bjorn had documented a possible transshipment between the Leelawadee and an unnamed vessel in 2015. That event was documented using AIS data as part of SkyTruth’s assistance with the investigation by the Associated Press into Thai vessels fishing with trafficked and enslaved crews.  It is no surprise that it occurred in the waters of Papua New Guinea.

The first image of Leelawadee on the Saya de Malha bank was captured on Nov 23, 2016. It showed her alongside a refueling vessel, the Mahachai Marine 1.  Refueling at sea, also known as “bunkering,” is another necessity for fishing vessels operating far from their home ports for extended periods of time.

Leelawadee reefer (larger vessel) tied to bunkering vessel Mahachai Marine 1. (DigitalGlobe)

Seven days later, on the November 30, the satellite captured five vessels in one pass: the Leelawadee with two vessels tied alongside her and a vessel tied to the stern of the Mahachai Marine 1 (see images below). Although the three unknown vessels appear to be fishing boats, none were broadcasting AIS signals.

The refrigerated cargo vessel (reefer) Leelawadee with two unidentified likely fishing vessels tied alongside. Captured by DigitalGlobe on November 30, 2016. (DigitalGlobe)

Refueling vessel, Mahachai Marine 1, with unidentified vessel tied astern. (DigitalGlobe)

Since we began our efforts to target imaging satellites on reefers, we have turned up several similar “dark” fleets of fishing vessels in other parts of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic. Combined with AIS data, we are able to flesh out an even more complete picture of what these vessels are doing. In the case of the Leelawadee, AIS-derived tracks over four years indicate that she has made repeated trips between Thailand and an area inside Papua New Guinea’s exclusive economic zone known as The Dogleg, a poorly monitored, remote region rife with suspected illegal activity. Our data reveals many instances in which vessels have crossed from Indonesian waters into the Dogleg, likely to transship their catch. On July 29, 2015, the Leelawadee rendezvoused for many hours with an unnamed fishing vessel broadcasting an irregular AIS number not tied to a vessel identity.

Then in November 2016, both vessels met again, this time on the Saya de Malha bank. They spent several hours together, indicating a possible transshipment. That rendezvous occurred hours after we captured the photograph of the Leelawadee with two “dark” vessels tied alongside, and right before she left the area on a northeasterly course back to port in Thailand.

Track of the Leelawadee (red) and an unnamed fishing vessel (white) rendezvousing in Papua New Guinea waters in July 2015, then again on the Saya de Malha bank in November 2016.

“That both vessels were seen in the Dogleg, and have now moved to the Saya de Malha Bank provides tangible evidence to support the Greenpeace report” says Bjorn. “And what’s interesting is the pattern is similar to the situation we saw with the AP investigation where these Thai reefers would return again and again to one particular location.” It’s worth noting that the encounter between the Leelawadee and the unnamed vessel that occurred in the Dogleg also followed a transshipment that was photographed in the same location by DigitalGlobe. That photograph led to the capture of the reefer Silver Sea 2, which reportedly had been receiving catch from fishing vessels with enslaved crew.  [Read our earlier post on this investigation.]