by Amir Rapaport
Windward, providers of maritime intelligence, unveils new developments and describes how intelligence is collected about more than 200,000 vessels worldwide, 24 hours a day
It happened last April: an Iranian ship that had been sailing along a regular route leading to the port of Bandar Abbas for years, suddenly changed course and exited the Persian Gulf on the way to the shores of Yemen.
Tracking of the new route of the ship raised immediate suspicions that it was carrying arms to the Houthi rebels, the initiators of the Yemenite civil war who receive massive support from Tehran. During the same timeframe, dozens of other irregular ship movements were observed along the shores of Yemen as well as opposite Saudi Arabia. Dozens of analysts, manning workstations at the offices of the Windward Company in Tel-Aviv, tracked the movements of the Iranian ships with interest. Bright dots representing tens of thousands of vessels around the world flickered on their display screens. The suspect ships were marked on the screens and the suspect routes they had travelled were displayed as continuous red lines. A single key stroke displayed the data of the past and present of each one of those ships.
The Windward Company, based in Tel-Aviv, currently serves as an external provider of intelligence to Israeli defense elements as well as to dozens of navies and other organizations around the world that are interested in irregular vessel movements. Their clientele includes international customs agencies, immigration agencies and financial investment houses that need to know how much oil and other commodities travel around the globe.
Windward, which monitors more than 200,000 vessels worldwide at any given moment, was established in Israel about five years ago with the intention of providing a continuous global maritime picture based on the combined data provided by satellites (images & communication signals) and by coastal Radar systems and transmitted by the vessels themselves. The timing was not coincidental: the oceans have become the arena for global conflicts. The discovery of energy reservoirs at sea led to a series of struggles around the globe over the control and boundaries of economic waters and territorial waters.
In fact, Windward of Israel is the only organization that currently monitors worldwide shipping activity continuously and on a global scale. The core of the process of analyzing the maritime picture is a collection of software products capable of identifying any irregularity in maritime movements. This process is based on the fact that since 2010, each vessel is obliged to continuously transmit its location along with details about its cargo. Any ship that stops transmitting will become suspect immediately. The analyses carried out at Windward have already spotted hundreds of cases of maritime smuggling. Sometimes, a retrospective analysis of irregular activities will spot other vessels that were involved in similar irregular activity in the period prior to the detection, thereby betraying them as well. The massive shipping data are stored in dozens of servers by the computer giant Amazon, and may serve for further analysis of irregular maritime activities (“anomalies”) in the future.
Windward’s operations were publicized for the first time by Israel Defense about two years ago. Since then, the Company won first prize at the innovation competition of the international HLS conference held in Israel in November 2014, Frost & Sullivan’s Global Technology Leader Award and a prize awarded by the Israeli Government Chief Scientist. Windward will unveil new capabilities at the IMDEX exhibition scheduled to be held in Singapore between May 18 and 21, 2015.
Windward was financed by venture capital funds and is run by its two founders, former IDF Navy officers Ami Daniel and Matan Peleg.
“In the two years that have passed since our first exposure, we have grown from 12 to 35 employees. We expanded well beyond the world of maritime intelligence, where we had started out. We took all of the insights we gained travelling around the world and poured them into a new set of technologies,” says Ami Daniel.
Will you be launching new products or a new concept at the exhibition in Singapore?
“We are launching a product based on a new technology – a sort of index. We are trying to sort and organize the maritime intelligence of the entire world. We believe in the need to chart the physical movements of vessels worldwide, and through this process we obtain a lot of interesting information which is relevant not just for navies and military organizations. Collecting intelligence on the entire maritime information of the world presents substantial challenges and offers a tremendous potential.
“In recent years there has been a major leap in satellite technology. For example, satellites can pick up the transmissions of ships. We collect public and private information about shipping in order to load information no one else has to our platform. The world has become fairly wild as far as regulation and technology are concerned – just like the Wild West. We developed the Windward Mind system, which includes several virtual ‘boxes’.
“The preliminary data being collected are fragmented and incomplete, so we perform a fusion process inside the first information ‘box’, to determine who’s who. In the second phase, a ‘cleaning box’ cleans up the data and converts them to substantial knowledge.
“Having cleaned, cyber-filtered and sorted the data, we pass them through two additional ‘boxes’ – ‘Vessel Stories’ and ‘Area Stories’. In fact, these ‘boxes’ are used to create a story about each one of the vessel currently at sea. This is the first time during the process where we do not rely on the incoming data but also calculate our own data. For example, a ship may report that its displacement is zero and its destination is unknown, but based on the history of that ship, we can tell that it is about to enter a loading dock. We also know the rate of the loading process, which means that we know what its de-facto cargo is, despite the fact that it was not declared by the ship.
“All of this takes place with the ship still at sea. In fact, we have created a sort of Waze application for the ocean – the vessels draw the world for us.
“In some cases, vessels will change their identity half way through the voyage, and that, in itself, will raise suspicions and justify an in-depth analysis of the vessel’s story. In order to gain a profound understanding of what actually happens at sea, we do not only collect open source information, but engage in cooperative alliances with such organizations as major ports, so as to provide them with our information and obtain their information in return. We share a common interest.
“What we have developed, in fact, is a system that operates continuously, around the clock, regarding all of the vessels in the world. Aerial photographs, for example, are good for real time, but not for around-the-clock monitoring. For this reason, we assembled the ‘life stories’ of the vessels – all of the vessels in the world, including Iranian ships and so on – not on the basis of the satellite photos, which only help complement the picture when required.”
How do you characterize your clients?
“As we see it, there are two primary client categories: clients who care about intelligence in general, and clients who care only for maritime intelligence. Intelligence agencies such as CIA are interested in intelligence generally and in this context they may also be interested in things that happen at sea. Clients of maritime intelligence are such organizations as coast guards.
“Our system not only analyzes things that happened in the past. We succeeded, for example, in predicting information about illegal fishing three days before it actually occurred, as the system can predict patterns that are about to happen.
“The objective is ‘to find tomorrow’s threat – today’. We discover information about locations and behavior patterns. Once you become familiar with the target and the behavior pattern – you will not who and what to look for. No one else knows how to look at this box. Some organizations are more analysis-oriented, like the analysis elements of intelligence agencies, and other organizations excel at monitoring the data – like command and control units and so forth.”
The primary business model developed at Windward involves the sale of the extensive information as an on-going service that includes access to the complete maritime status picture for all of the world’s oceans and seas.
Clients can specify, through the system, the maritime movements that are of particular interest to them, present questions to the system and analyze suspect maritime behavior patterns retroactively. Some of the services are sold in the context of cooperative alliances with other companies around the world. Sometimes, Windward can surprise: last April, the Company contacted the immigration authorities of a country in Europe and provided information about a suspect vessel that was about to enter a Mediterranean port – despite the fact that the agency in question was not a client. Pursuant to Windward’s “heads up”, the vessel was inspected and the immigration authorities reported “Bingo”: in the cargo hold, hidden behind containers of ‘innocent’ goods, was a massive human cargo of dozens of illegal immigrants. Now, other vessels that had followed a similar route are being inspected, as it is suspected that the activity in question represents a particularly active illegal immigration route. The objective of this voluntary report was to convince the European immigration authority to become a Windward client. Some degree of risk was involved: if the vessel had turned out to be completely innocent, the conclusion would have been that the information offered by Windward is unreliable, but the analysis turned out to be correct.
Regardless of that particular achievement, Windward is already regarded as a success story. According to Matan Peled and Ami Daniel, the new developments to be unveiled at the exhibition in Singapore should be an additional new phase in the Company’s evolution
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