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.


Fishing secrets and SAR technology

Fishing is a huge business that brings big economic benefits, while also having an important role to play in providing jobs and food security. The global seafood market is estimated to reach about $138,7 billion by 2027. Despite its international importance, the industry remains a mystery to a large extent.
Limited information and data on vessels’ locations, places where they operate, their owners, the amounts of their catches, and how these stocks are transported leads to illegal activities such as piracy, smuggling, or illegal fishing.


The problem of illegal fishing and its impact on the global seafood market

The global seafood market depends on a global fleet of fishing vessels. From trawlers to seiners and small boats, fishing vessels come in many sizes, designs, and destinations. This diversity and location make the industry extremely complicated. No one is able to fully estimate the exact number of vessels. And especially, their activities and challenges related to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing).

Global estimates suggest a minimum of 20% of seafood worldwide is caught illegally, representing economic losses between $10 to $23 billion and 11 to 25 million metric tons of fish. However, as this is a dark market, and many illegal activities take place at night or under the cover of difficult weather conditions, estimates are understated.


                                                                                                 Fishing vessels – trawlers

SOUTH CHINA SEA (SCS) and fishing vessels

More than 50% of the fishing vessels in the world are estimated to operate in the South China Sea. This is an area of around 3.8 million square kilometers and is bordered by 12 countries/territories. These places are home to two billion people and represent some of the fastest developing economies in the world. It is one of the top 5 most productive fishing zones in the world in terms of total annual marine production. Moreover, it is one of the zones the most affected by illegal fishing. The South China Sea is currently almost 90% overfished and a very high percentage of fish stocks are used.

It is practically impossible to track all fishing activities in the SCS territories. It is because due to territorial disputes, and difficulties in identifying boats. Maritime activity is usually followed on the basis of Automatic Identification System (AIS), Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), or Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) technologies. This data shows a significant amount of catches in the areas. However, they are not accurate enough to fight illegal activities.


                                                                                               South China Sea Area

What are the limitations?

The mentioned data is good and relatively inexpensive, the possibility for AIS/VMS sensor interfere is quite common. Many fishing vessels don’t have these systems because they are small and they are under no obligation to use them. Conversely, they may be going dark to intentionally turn off the signal and hide their IUU fishing activities. Many dark vessels are reporting false identification or a series of them in order to distort maritime situational awareness.

Data from meteorological satellite sensors (VIIRS) are generally open access, are available in near real-time, and have long-term archives, but a major disadvantage is their spatial resolution at the level 750×750 m, which is too inaccurate when it comes to vessel detection.

Discover fishing vessels going dark 

Thanks to international cooperation and new technology, we can make progress in tracking IUU fishing. Coastal states and the industry are working to improve the transparency and accountability of illegal maritime phenomena. Control systems such as AIS, VMS, or satellite optical images can be significantly supported by satellite radar-based imagery. They are accompanied by AI-based vessel detection and classification algorithms. All of that fills the gaps in understanding the problem and increases transparency in the fisheries sector.


By using SAR imagery you can get a more detailed analysis of fishing activity and improve the traceability of vessels. Everything regardless of weather conditions and of time of day. The effectiveness of actions to combat illegal fishing depends on many factors. The quality of the data, the ease of obtaining it, and our ability to interpret it, for instance. SAR data with sub-meter resolution is already available on the market. New opportunities allow the development of AI-based solutions. Finally, a new era of SAR will come, where commercial access to data will be possible and simple. 

So, let’s make SAR easy and improve the monitoring of seas and oceans. It will be crucial if we hope to save our fisheries and our oceans. If you would like to know more about SATIM, our technology, or products please contact us


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.


Shall one be required to make five phone calls and sign three documents to order SAR data?

The ongoing satellite SAR revolution is accelerating. Currently, there are over 50 SAR satellites providing radar imagery, which is more than double compared to 2018. But the data stream is not everything. We need to do more to make SAR operational and useful. It requires collaboration between SAR satellite operators and added value companies, as well as open and clear business models in order to provide real value to the end-users.


                                                                    Four ICEYE’s SAR satellites flying in formation. Credit: LeoLabs


Imagine the following situation. Firstly, there is unified easy access to all civil and commercial satellite SAR data sources. Secondly, the data is interoperable across different sensors. Moreover, you can get hourly revisits over any place on Earth, latency is in minutes, and the product generation and results delivery are fully automatic. Doable? I believe that with the 4th era in SAR developments it is inevitable.

4th era in SAR data

The creation of the first SAR sensor was incentivized by the military sector when the first airborne SAR sensors were developed in the 1960s by Lockheed Martin in the US. The second era was related to big, complex, and costly scientific and military SAR satellites. Started in the 1970s, again, by Lockheed, but also by NOAA and NASA JPL. This era somehow still continues today with the Sentinel-1, ALOS-2, or TerraSAR-X/TanDEM-X satellites.

Photo of the ERS-1 spacecraft in launch configuration (image credit: ESA)

But it is being slowly replaced by the third era of microsatellites. This has been started by
ICEYE, in 2018, and followed by others like Capella Space, Umbra
, PredaSAR, iQPS or Synspective.


 Artist impression of Capella SAR satellite (background image courtesy NASA), image credit: Capella)

The upcoming fourth era will be related to new business models for SAR data and easy-to-access, effective, and operational added-value services based on that data. 


                                                          (GRAPHIC) N. DESAI/SCIENCE; (DATA) ESA; WMO; GUNTER’S SPACE PAGE


What needs to happen?

SAR data can help in many different areas. However, each of those areas requires different and deep expertise for added-value companies in order to succeed. You cannot be a “SAR” company. Instead, you need to be “a specific problem-solution” company using SAR. None of the SAR operators or downstream companies can cover all potential application areas, even if they would want to. ICEYE’s Flood Monitoring service is a great example of focused attention. 

I fully agree with the words of Gabe Dominocelo, co-founder of Umbra, who said “As more sensors are launched and prices come down, we’re going to see the commercial market expand”. Lower prices are mandatory for commercial SAR-based services to find their place in the market. But it is also necessary for data providers to implement easier access to their data streams, e.g. through online APIs. Making five phone calls and signing three documents on the way shall not be necessary to order and acquire SAR data if we want to target commercial markets.


But this already starts to change

Some of the above-mentioned SAR operators change that approach by implementing both new pricing models, as well as easy access mechanisms to their space infrastructure. Hopefully, the remaining operators will follow quickly, so that the vision of the 4th era of SAR will become real. Fingers crossed and make SAR easy!