“All he did was ask to go home. The last time the Burmese slave made the same request, he was beaten almost to death. But after being gone eight years and forced to work on a boat in faraway Indonesia, Myint Naing was willing to risk everything to see his mother again.”
-Margie Mason, AP
As we look ahead to the new year, I’ve taken some time to reflect on what drives us to continue testing new applications of technology for conservation, transparency, and human rights. I can’t think of a better source of motivation than SkyTruth analyst Bjorn Bergman’s work tracking fishing vessels at sea such as the Silver Sea 2, a refrigerated cargo ship seized by the Indonesian Navy for illegal activity.
A fisherman enslaved for 22 years is reunited with his family. AP PHOTO / Gemunu Amarasinghe
A lengthy investigation of the Thai fishing fleet operating in Indonesia conducted by the Associated Press led to the release of more than 2,000 slaves in the Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Seafood from Slaves.” In a follow-up investigation, Bjorn provided critical information that prompted Indonesia to take action. Using vessel-tracking data collected by satellites, Bjorn monitored the movements of the Silver Sea 2. He analyzed past activity to predict where the ship was likely to go next to rendezvous at sea with fishing vessels and offload their catch for processing. This transshipment activity helps fishing vessels avoid coming into port and makes it easier to hide illicit activity, such as illegal fishing and labor violations. Bjorn gave his precise prediction to the reporters, who then passed it along to DigitalGlobe, a company that operates high-resolution imaging satellites. DigitalGlobe targeted their most advanced satellite on the location Bjorn had provided, and within days had captured stunning visual proof of the Silver Sea engaged in transshipment with two fishing vessels known to use enslaved crews.
According to an article in the series, the CEO of DigitalGlobe said this was the first time the technology had been used to record human trafficking live, adding “You can’t hide from space.” The detailed satellite image was too powerful for the Indonesian government to ignore: when the Silver Sea 2 attempted to return to port, the Indonesian Navy seized and impounded it. The government recently announced the vessel would become part of a museum to teach Indonesians about illegal fishing. Our analysts use satellite imagery provided by DigitalGlobe and others to monitor some of the world’s most imperiled places. Since founding SkyTruth in 2001, thisis the most compelling example of the power of this work I’ve observed to date because it demonstrates the ability of imagery to change people’s lives for the better. In this new era of transparency, we are just starting to realize the potential this technology unleashes for environmental protection and for social good.
Bjorn’s work continues. In an era that sorely needs more transparency, you can help us use the view from space to inspire people to protect the environment. As a nonprofit, we rely on donations so that we can continue to invest in the people and technology to do this groundbreaking work. Please consider SkyTruth as you make your end of year giving plans, either by donating online or by using the enclosed envelope. If you’d like more information on our work, visit our website, check out our profile on GuideStar, or drop us an email at email@example.com.