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New report highlights the rise of vessel identity laundering

New report highlights the rise of vessel identity laundering
Sam Chambers sSeptember 24, 2021

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is investigating claims that North Korea has been carrying out a sophisticated process of vessel identity laundering. The novel tactic is detailed in a 56-page report from C4ADS, a Washington DC-based nonprofit organisation dedicated to data-driven analysis and evidence-based reporting of conflict and security issues worldwide.

What C4ADS has unearthed is a process in which one or more vessels adopt a different identity on automatic identification system (AIS) transmissions in order to allow sanctions-hit ships to assume clean identities, and involves at least one vessel in this operation assuming an identity that is obtained by defrauding the IMO.

Vessel identity laundering is significantly more sophisticated than previously observed instances of vessel identity tampering, in which vessels modify their physical appearance or broadcast false data on AIS transmissions.

“Given its complexity, vessel identity laundering presents unprecedented challenges for maritime regulators and risks undermining global shipping practices,” the C4ADS report states.

In recent years, C4ADS 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.