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Surveillance Tech Helped INTERPOL Crack Down on Marine Pollution Crime

INTERPOL launched “Operation 30 Days at Sea” in cooperation with Europol to address the marine pollution violations and geospatial technologies were at the forefront of this operation.

Marine pollution is a serious threat to environmental health. It also leads to transnational organized crime, with offenders disposing of pollutants in the sea to save cost on waste treatment. In order to address the complex nature of this crime, law enforcement agencies have to come up with a comprehensive response that is internationally coordinated. To foster such a response, INTERPOL’s Pollution Crime Working Group (PCWG) launched “Operation 30 Days at Sea” in cooperation with Europol in 2018. Geospatial technologies such as satellite imagery, aerial surveillance systems, vessel tracking systems and mobile applications were at the forefront of the operation.

Scope: Targeting marine pollution offences globally

The operation aimed at bringing together relevant national enforcement and environmental protection agencies to act in concert against marine pollution, by targeting the following activities:

  • Illegal discharge from vessels and offshore platforms
  • Ocean dumping; ship breaking
  • Violations of ship emission regulations
  • Land-based and river pollution impacting the marine environment

Objective: Enhancing marine pollution enforcement

The overall objective of the Operation was to enhance the global law enforcement response to marine pollution in violation of international conventions and national legislations, to improve sea quality. The Operation involved supporting investigations to identify, arrest and prosecute individuals and/or companies responsible for marine pollution through:

  • Intelligence gathering and international cooperation;
  • Collecting and analyzing geospatial data to profile risk indicators, modus operandi and hotspots, with a view to enhance early detection of violations and develop long-term law enforcement strategies.

Operational activities

As many as 58 countries joined the “Operation 30 Days at Sea”, mobilizing 276 national agencies (Figure 1). Each participating country defined its own targets and operational activities based on its national priorities and technological capabilities.

Figure 1. Map and list of participating countries in the Operation

Intelligence-led operational targets

In majority of participating countries, target identification resulted from intelligence gathering through screening vessels and companies of interest based on records of non-compliance. Variety of sources were used, including national compliance targeting matrix for marine traffic and related lists of ships of interest; and databases of the regional MoUs on Port State Control. Some countries coupled historical data with intelligence collected during the Operation through vessel traffic management information systems, National Aerial Surveillance Program over flights, and satellite monitoring.

  • Thailand conducted a multi-target operation deploying onshore and offshore assets to inspect ports, coastal areas and territorial waters. Four intelligence principles guided target selection: probability, information sharing, intelligence gathering and statistical leads.
  • Portugal selected its operational targets through an intelligence gathering and analysis cycle as part of an integrated management approach at strategic, tactical and operational levels.
  • Argentina conducted operational actions including intelligence gathering, satellite monitoring, and aerial surveillance, on board inspections, vessel tracking and sea patrolling coordinated by a maritime traffic system that was operational 24/7.
  • In Germany, authorities performed 313 inspections, 28 air surveillance flights, 27 AIS investigations and analyzed over 40 satellite pictures. As a result, they detected 165 marine pollution offenses and initiated 37 investigations on water pollution crime and illegal shipments from Europe. The total security deposits exceeded EUR 63,000 (USD71, 000).
  • Angola deployed several navy units with maritime and aerial assets, under the Command and Coordination Centre in Luanda.

Geospatial technologies deployed

The Operation saw an extensive use of both traditional surveillance vehicles and equipment, such as aerial surveillance and sea patrols, and innovative technologies and techniques applied to marine pollution detection. Innovative techniques and technologies deployed by countries during the Operation included:

  • Satellite imagery;
  • Advanced aerial surveillance technologies: drones, including technologies such as sulphur sensors and mapping software; aircrafts equipped with side looking airborne radar (SLAR), electro optical infrared camera system (EO/IR) and infrared and ultraviolet line scanner (IR/UV);
  • Vessel tracking systems, including automatic identification systems (AIS) and various software and mobile applications;
  • Various IT equipment such as facial capturing systems, fingerprints scanning systems, night vision cameras, XRF scanners, X-ray scanners and special equipment for oil spills;
  • The Operation marked the first integration of EMSA’s (European Maritime Safety Agency) CleanSeaNet and SafeSeaNet satellite systems into an INTERPOL operation, benefiting endeavors in several countries through satellite imagery, including in Denmark, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
  • Indonesia focused its operation on oil spill monitoring using satellite sensors, namely ESA Sentinel Image, Lapan Landsat Image, SeonSE BARATA-BROL KKP application, and Bakamla’s Dashboard application. 218 radar images were received, processed and analyzed in near real time at INDESO station.
  • Sweden mapped mineral-oil pollution incidents through satellite imagery.
  • In the Republic of Korea, the use of AIS supporting 552 inspections allowed detection of 49 violations, including 11 cases of discharge of noxious liquid substances resulting from tank washing.
  • In Pakistan, satellite imagery was instrumental to identifying the vessel responsible for a large oil spillage detected during the Operation, with over 40 metric tons of bunker oil dumped in the sea.
  • In Kenya, the use of Sea Vision technology and TV32 was instrumental to identifying vessels of interest by providing real-time traffic information in areas around suspicious maritime events. The technology also assisted the operation team to prioritize vessels for inspections.
  • Transport Canada deployed its National Aerial Surveillance Program conducting 20 night flights to detect pollution incidents. Aircraft were equipped with night vision cameras, Side Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR), Electro-optical Infrared Cameras (EO/IR) and Infrared/Ultraviolet Line Scanners (IR/UV).
  • In several countries, including Finland, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom, operational tactics encompassed aerial surveillance. For example, France’s POLMAR helicopters and aircrafts conducted 187.6 hours of surveillance flights.
  • In Norway, the use of drones with Sulphur detectors found the noncompliance of vessels with regulations against air pollution from ships.
  • Vessels tracking systems, including automatic identification system (AIS), software and applications, were used in Angola to monitor vessels positions and itineraries, and detect risk indicators.

Key achievements

  • 15,446 Inspections were conducted worldwide which resulted in the detection of 1,507 marine pollution-related offences (Figure 2) and 701 investigations initiated with subsequent fines and prosecutions in numerous cases. Cases reported by national authorities to INTERPOL allowed to identify 202 vessels and 76 companies involved in marine-pollution offences.  
Figure 2. Map of the key results of the Operation
  • he 1,507 marine pollution related offences detected on land, in internal waters or at sea area portion of the over 2,000 violations uncovered during the operation, including hundreds of minor violations and deficiencies and cases related to other types of offences, such as fishery crime, drug trafficking and violations of safety regulations, which were detected during multipurpose inspections.
  • The immediate impact of this Operation was the effective containment of sea contamination following a large number of incidents and violations in every regions of the world, along with the disruption of some illicit businesses with subsequent arrests and prosecutions.
  • While in some countries use of drones, satellite imagery, etc. were incorporated routinely in marine pollution enforcement, in other nations, the Operation triggered their use. For example, Nigeria experienced the unprecedented use of drones for port inspections for the first time. Flyovers of the ports were conducted with orthomosaic photogrammetry for mapping purposes, as well as to observe shipping movements and identify potential pollution events. This initiative marked an important step forward in Nigeria’s capacity to detect marine pollution crimes.  

Strategic and long-terms impacts

The impact of this Operation and the application of geospatial technologies was particularly important in a number of African, Asian and Pacific countries, where marine pollution is still a very new and neglected area of law enforcement. In these countries, the development of technical capacities to address challenges, and advocacy at the policy level to increase prioritization of marine pollution enforcement was encouraged. The Operation generated actionable intelligence from the analysis of the operational results, to drive future targeted intelligence-led marine pollution operations.

This case study is based on a Report originally published by INTERPOL, Reference:2019/405/OEC/ILM/ENS/BNI.

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