These days the U.N. requires all large commercial ships to broadcast their location and identity using the Automated Identification System beacon technology. In developing countries with poor maritime enforcement, especially in West Africa, the local coast guard can compare AIS tracks to a radar picture to figure out if any ships are trying to sneak around, perhaps with contraband, illegal fish hauls or even cargoes of slaves.
The same basic method might help the world fight Somali pirates. Kongsberg Satellite Services in Norway has developed a simple, affordable method for spotting potential pirates and warning ships’ crews. The system blends AIS data and a satellite image. “What we do is compare the corresponding AIS signals to the satellite image and compare the AIS list to the object list. All objects not appearing in the AIS list are highlighted. … In principle we can do this anywhere in the world. Basically, ships with nothing to hide will report their position, those not reporting their position raise questions.”
Pirates, needless to say, don’t use AIS.
A crew sailing into pirate waters could request this intel before reaching a danger zone. KSAT can deliver it by email. Thus equipped with a basic sense of who’s trying to hide in the surrounding waters, the crew should know where to look for potential attackers.