On 10 September, the Asahi Shimbun carried an article saying that smugglers suspected of evading sanctions on North Korea have turned to schemes to create fraudulent identities for sanctioned ships, C4ADS has said in a report. Ships suspected of smuggling have long modified their physical appearance or broadcast false position data, but the practice of “vessel identity laundering” is said to be significantly more sophisticated.
The C4ADS report says that vessel identity laundering operations jeopardize the integrity of the IMO ship registration system, which the world relies upon in order to identify, track, and interact with the 60,000 ships that travel the world’s oceans transporting 90% of global trade. It says that, in recent years, it has observed at least 11 ships engaging in elaborate schemes to create fraudulent ship registrations with the IMO, which are subsequently used to “launder” the identity of vessels that have been associated with illicit activities. Its report seeks to empower law enforcement and civil regulators to detect and disrupt vessel laundering identity operations by explaining how vessel identity laundering operations work and demonstrating how they can be detected using AIS data, satellite imagery, IMO registration records, and other sources of publicly available information. It deals with 2 previously unreported case studies of vessel identity laundering involving DPRK fuel smuggling networks. This report finds that in order to counter vessel identity laundering, the IMO and other maritime regulators must take steps to strengthen due diligence processes to secure a ship’s registered, digital, and physical identities. It offers recommendations to prevent the proliferation of fraudulent ship identities and mitigate risk by improving data collection, authentication, and transparency.
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