News / Middle East

Iranian Shipping Signals Cloak Syrian Ships

A cargo ship is seen between the Iranian city port of Bandar Abbas and Qeshm Island in the strategic waterway the Persian Gulf.
A cargo ship is seen between the Iranian city port of Bandar Abbas and Qeshm Island in the strategic waterway the Persian Gulf.
Reuters
Iranian oil tankers are sending incorrect satellite signals that confuse global tracking systems and appear to conceal voyages made by other ships to Syria, which, like Iran, is subject to international sanctions.

The two countries are close allies and have helped each other deal with shortages by swapping badly needed fuels such as gasoline for diesel.

Sanctions imposed on Iran to hamper its nuclear program have blocked sales of its oil to the West and made it increasingly difficult for Iran's fleet to obtain insurance and financing for deals with Asian buyers in China, India and South Korea.

Western sanctions have also isolated Syria, preventing it from exporting oil, while blocking fuel and weapons imports.

Iranian state tanker company NITC has already changed many tanker names as part of its response to sanctions, though shipping experts say such a tactic would not confuse anyone in the business about a vessel's whereabouts.

A New Twist

Now tanker tracking data monitored by Reuters and shipping specialists have highlighted a more subtle twist.

Large vessels must transmit their identity and location to other ships and coastal authorities using an automatic satellite communication system, but in the last month Iranian vessels sailing in Asian seas have sent signals that took over the identity of other vessels, so the same ship appeared to be in two places at once.

"It is of course possible to manipulate or falsify information in these messages," said Richard Hurley, a senior analyst at IHS Fairplay, a maritime intelligence publisher.

At least three Iranian oil tankers are transmitting such false signals, effectively taking over the identity of Syrian-owned vessels traveling between Syria, Libya and Turkey.
All the vessels in question were registered in Tanzania.

Iranian oil tanker Millionaire sent messages that doubled over a voyage made by a Syrian-owned ship, the Lady Rasha.

In a separate instance, the satellite tracks of Iranian oil tanker Pioneer were mixed up with a Tanzania-flagged cargo ship called the Talavera, recently renamed Chief Ahmed, and traveling from the Mediterranean into the Red Sea.

Despite all the paired vessels appearing to be registered under Tanzanian flags, officials in mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar denied holding any information on the vessels.

They have directed queries to a shipping agency in Dubai, Philtex Corporation, which they say registered some Iranian ships under the Tanzanian flag without their knowledge.

Philtex confirmed it had registered the Syrian-owned Lady Rasha, but could not provide details on the Iranian tankers in question.

False Data

Peter Blackhurst, head of maritime security at Inmarsat, which provides satellite communication services, said a ship could get its Global Positioning System (GPS) to give false data, including pretending to be another vessel.

"That equipment is programmable one way or another," he said, adding that he had come across data manipulation by ships involved in illegal fishing or waste dumping.

Syrian-owned Lady Rasha's satellite track first mixed up with the Iranian-owned oil tanker Millionaire on October 20, when the tanker began transmitting the same signal as the cargo ship.

Lady Rasha was then docked in Benghazi, Libya. The Millionaire tanker was sailing in the Indian Ocean.

To do this, the Millionaire changed its MMSI, a message that contains both location and identity data, from 572450210 to match the Lady Rasha's number: 677030700.
Although the Lady Rasha sent signals during its journey across the eastern Mediterranean, its identity was overwritten by the Iranian ship, which was also sending position signals of its own from the Indian Ocean.

As a result, the Millionaire appears to be undertaking two parallel journeys thousands of miles apart, while the Lady Rasha's track is not plotted.

On one track the Millionaire can been seen sailing the Lady Rasha's course in the Mediterranean, and on the other it is powering though the Indian Ocean from east Asia back to Iran.

However, another piece of identification data, the IMO, can't be changed, and that, too, is sent with every message on position, which enabled vessel-tracking experts to detect that signals came from two different ships.

Mystery Crates

A day after the Millionaire's MMSI changed, the Lady Rasha left Libya and arrived in Syria on October 26, the Tartous port authority said, where it unloaded cattle and crates, the contents of which the Syrian port authority said were not known.

The Lady Rasha is owned by ISM Group, according to the Syrian port authority at Tartous, a firm that came under the spotlight after Lebanon seized one of its ships with three containers filled with weapons earlier this year, including explosives with labels indicating their origin as Libya.

The port authority at Tartous confirmed the Lady Rasha had called there and the Millionaire had not, but a senior NITC official denied the Iranian tanker had sent out signals that belonged to another ship.

The Lady Rasha's owners could not be reached for comment, while the agency that registered the vessel with Tanzania said it was unaware of the duplicate signals.

"We have no idea and we cannot justify why they are emitting the same satellite signals," said Jocelyn Acosta, director of operations at registering agency Philtex Corporation.

Acosta said Philtex cooperated with requests made by United States government agencies and others to identify a ship's owner and had deregistered a number of vessels accordingly.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid