How SAR can help seaport and maritime logistics?

Maritime logistics experienced a huge storm in 2020, which indicated the need to accelerate its digital transformation on many levels. The surge in trade after the first wave of the pandemic, the Suez Canal blockage, and U.S. West Coast port congestion made ports experienced a record number of vessels waiting for terminal space at the seaport early in the year.

Port congestion and the resulting disruptions in global supply chains have been a constant in recent times and pose unexpected, big challenges. Lars Jensen, the founder of container consultancy Vespucci Maritime, has estimated that 10% of the world’s shipping capacity has been taken out due to port congestion issues.


According to IHS Markit, the waiting time of ships in the port has doubled since 2019. The average number of hours spent by container ships in the port in May 2021 raised. The average waiting time
in America is 92 h, in Northern European ports – 69 h, and 40 hours in East Asia. Global waterways and maritime are more complex and less predictable. A container congestion crisis has been brewing off the coast of Southern California for many months.

Digital era of shipping

About 20 years ago, the digital era of shipping has started. Many shipowners monitor ships through AIS, RF, or VMS services, and more and more ports monitor their occupancy with the use of remote systems.

The main problem with this is that vessel detection technology was designed for vessels. The limitations, such as consciously trying to turn off them are many. It makes that the general maritime awareness image is extremely distorted. AIS signals can also be spotty, and the signals in ports are crowded and oftentimes interfere with each other. Moreover, in many cases, the information provided is not clear, with it often being distorted, left out, or incomplete.


How can satellite SAR-based observations support port development?

Future requirements for safe, environmentally friendly, and efficient trade operations, require new technologies in every part of the supply chain. 

The best technology for vessel detection and port monitoring comes from satellite imagery, specifically Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). SAR is an all-weather and all-condition technology. It is necessary at the time of monitoring, such as the foggy or rainy season. The size of the observed area is also important. SAR images cover a much larger territorial area compared to optical ones.

Satellite data analytics are providing seaport and maritime logistic companies with innovative solutions. They can respond faster and more efficiently to major changes and unexpected situations that cause serious costs. These tools allow for controlling supply chains remotely and seeing how busy the ports are. Moreover, it can be done from anywhere and in any weather conditions. This allows port personnel to focus on other important activities that generate direct income.


You’re probably now wondering, how can you begin to take advantage of this data? Working with SAR imagery as an end-user is not easy and simple for many reasons, especially access and expertise. You need to know how to get the imagery and what to do with it. That’s our role. We make SAR easy. We are TRANSLATOR of complex radar-based data into actionable information and we are building solutions that directly reply to our customers’ needs. If you’re interested, email us at We’d love to have a chat.


Oil theft labyrinth in Niger Delta and SAR technology

The world drives over a third of its total energy production from oil. As a result, the countries that control the world’s oil reserves often have economic power. Nigeria holds 36,97 billion barrels of proven oil reserves as of 2018, ranking 10th in the world and accounting for about 3,1% of the world’s total oil reserves. 

In early 2021, the National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria determined oil production to be well below the average production before the coronavirus pandemic. According to OPEC’s latest data, issues such as vandalism, crude oil theft, and some offshore issues, including insecurity, regulations, and fines, are responsible for the decline.


                                      A man with crude oil canisters in Nigeria’s state of Baylesa

The dark side of the fuel market

The impact of oil theft and smuggling are significant and wide-ranging and always result in huge economic loss, human casualties, and extreme environmental pollution.

As one might guess, the highest level of oil theft occurs in countries with large oil reserves and in countries where the complicity among government agencies and security forces with criminal enterprises is big, without proper control measures being in place. The most famous example is Nigeria and its labyrinth of the Niger Delta. 

According to a report presented by the Nigeria Natural Resource Charter, Nigeria lost about $8.9 million daily, which sums up to $7.2 billion over the two-year period (2016-2017), which is about 15 percent of the total number of barrels produced per day. Oil crime, in all its forms, is a significant threat not only to local and regional prosperity but also to global stability and security. The instability in the delta region is one of the factors driving the rise in global oil prices.


                              Refined oil taken to the market in Nigeria (photo Stakeholder democracy)

How does oil theft happen? 

The infamous labyrinth of the Niger Delta is the perfect place for illegal activities to go undetected. Many nooks and crannies, a complex network of hidden channels, and secret connections make it possible to steal crude oil, on a large scale, in many ways. Oil is already being stolen not by tons but by tankers. An example is the Akshay tanker cruise at the end of 2012, which was stopped on the basis of the illegal export of this raw material. However, over the past ten years, the system of theft and illegal exports has changed. But, the methods and means of transporting illegal oil remain the same. Oil is exported by ships in trace amounts, transported on small vessels, or transported to ships that are traditionally considered to be 'reputable’, and all of this is happening in the muddy regions of the Niger Delta.


                                        Illegal oil exports using ships and smaller boats in Nigeria

How can satellite imagery reveal what’s really happening in Niger Delta?

Fuel theft in Nigeria is so systemic that it will not be stopped any time soon. However, there are some tools and solutions that might help to counter oil theft. 

Using the SAR satellite technology, we are able to obtain information about the vessel’s activity and maritime changes. Tankers and small vessels conducting ‘dark operations’, can be spotted using satellite-based SAR imagery, regardless of weather conditions of time of day, and ​reduces the risk of illegal activities around the world.

Use case

In September 2020, SATIM analyzed vessel activity in the Niger Delta. This analysis was aimed at ship detection and recognition based on a SAR image provided by ICEYE. We have found examples of ships raising concerns about possible illegal activities. In our study, we have focused only on the water-borne objects. The research was conducted based on our AI algorithms trained for vessel detection and classification on any satellite SAR data.

Recognition result

As a result of the analysis,143 objects were detected and assigned into categories. 47 of them were classified as vessels. If a vessel was at least 50m long, then the classification process was performed.

Large and medium vessels were subjected to the recognition process (30 objects). Each of these vessels was labeled to one of the types (e.g Tankers, Oil Products tankers, Cargo barge). It was made on the basis of its similarity to signatures generated with our simulator.
8 Oil Products Tankers,
5 Tankers,
10 Cargo Barge,
2 Oil barge
2 Crude oil tankers.
Three vessels could not be properly recognized due to the lack of appropriate 3D models in the database. Our results were confronted with data from AIS. Only 5 of the detected vessels had an AIS signal.

SATIM use satellite-based radar imagery to support our customers with the utmost care. Now we try helping to build a great future where radar technology will provide benefits to people. We make SAR easy. If you’re interested, email us at We’d love to have a chat.