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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid