Case Studies

Navy Stops 2 Million Liters of Smuggled Oil

A Case Study 

Nigerian authorities used Windward’s Maritime AI™ platform for a major bust.

The Visibility Challenge

Oil smuggling is a huge issue for governments worldwide that intensified following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the accompanying deceptive shipping practices (DSPs) and altered trade flows that emerged.

Coast guards, navies, and law enforcement agencies understand the urgency, but they lack advanced, AI-powered technology capable of detecting vessels’ uneconomic activity, sequences and patterns indicative of smuggling, and the specifics of dark activity. This means law enforcement is attempting to stop smuggling with one hand tied behind its back. 

The Nigerian authorities used Windward’s Maritime AI™ platform to overcome these challenges. This is a brief story of how a vessel’s behavior, monitored and analyzed by Windward’s AI-driven behavioral models, led to its classification as high risk for smuggling and resulted in its ultimate capture by the Nigerian navy. 

The case study also explains how a powerful Sequence Search capability is necessary to mitigate deceptive shipping practices, revealing how many vessels have exhibited the same pattern as Sweet Miri. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Not-So-Sweet Miri

Sweet Miri

This is Sweet Miri, a 62-meter bunkering tanker vessel sailing under Panama’s flag. 

The vessel departed from the Tema port in Ghana in February 2022, where it had been docked for 18 months. The vessel changed its name from Mt Ramus to Sweet Miri during its voyage and shortly after entered Nigerian territorial waters for the first time. It docked at Bonny Port.

The vessel stopped transmitting its AIS signal for 14 days after leaving the port. Upon resuming transmission, on March 9, Sweet Miri sailed towards Tema port in Ghana, remaining there until October 2022. 

Map 1
Windward’s platform shows the journey from Ghana to Nigeria and back, including the dark activity. 

More Dark Activity Warning Signs & An Obvious Sequence

Sweet Miri set sail towards Benin on October 13, 2022. While sailing East the next day, the vessel conducted a 10-day-long dark activity

The vessel continued sailing East and entered Nigerian waters again. On January 7, the vessel began three months of dark activity, with nearly 100 days unaccounted for, which ended near the Bonny port.

Map 2
Multiple instances of dark activity by Sweet Miri. 

On July 19, 2023, Sweet Miri started another three-month dark activity two nautical miles from the Bonny port, Nigeria, followed by another 18 days of dark activity near the Bonny port On October 11.

The ship then sailed near the Bonny port waiting area and the Bonny offshore terminal for a week, with drifting and uneconomical behavior, without declaring any new destinations, draft changes, or other updates.

Map 3
Uneconomical vessel patterns are often an indicator of DSPs. 

Windward Puts Sweet Miri on Nigeria’s Radar

Sweet Miri was flagged as high risk in the Windward Maritime AI™ platform on October 12, 2023, due to several risk indicators: 

  • Dark activity near Bonny port
  • Anchoring in Nigerian waters
  • Uneconomical behavioral patterns

Following the vessel’s classification in the Windward system, Sweet Miri was on the Nigerian authorities’ radar. After months of sailing around the Nigerian exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and prolonged periods of dark activity near the Bonny port, the ship finally made its first port call in nearly two years on January 13, 2024.

The next day, the vessel made its way to the Equatorial Guinea EEZ, where it immediately began a 10-day period of dark activity. When the dark activity ended, Sweet Miri was back in the Nigerian EEZ.

On February 4, 2024, the vessel was once again in Equatorial Guinea and had gone dark, re-emerging 23 days later in Nigeria – a clear pattern.

Map 4
An emerging pattern reveals a clear cause for concern.

Despite switching off its automatic identification system (AIS) to avoid detection, the Nigerian navy located the vessel about 174 nautical miles (nm) from Nigeria’s coast. Its transmission was turned off and Sweet Miri was en route to Benin, with nearly two million liters of stolen crude oil on board! 

Sweet Miri Crew Arrest

Here are insights from this incident that can help your organization: 

  • Ships are economic creatures. When they act in uneconomical ways, as the Sweet Miri clearly did, it is usually an indicator of illicit activity.
  • Patterns often emerge once a vessel engages in illicit behavior. In this case, the Sweet Miri exhibited a tendency of going dark as it exited the Nigerian EEZ and then resuming transmission upon return.
  • A powerful sequence search capability is critical for stopping smuggling attempts and mitigating other destructive deceptive shipping practices. In the past year, there have been 43 vessels (including the Sweet Miri) that have displayed the following sequence of activities: 
  1. Bunkering tankers making a port call in Nigeria →
  2. Dark activity in Nigeria or the EEZ of neighboring countries (Benin and Equatorial New Guinea) 

Four of the 43 vessels are classified as high risk for smuggling in Windward’s Maritime AI™ platform and three are moderate risks – this is seven new leads! And two of these vessels have conducted this sequence of activities in the early months of 2024…

I Need These Capabilities!