Skip to main content

Automated remote sensing tools to counter illicit maritime activity: vessel detection, bathymetry and topography from WorldView imagery

Publication Type
Journal Name
International Journal of Remote Sensing
Publication Date
Page Numbers
6117 to 6130

Illicit maritime activity, such as piracy and smuggling, is a global issue that often occurs in areas where interdiction authorities are sparse, ground-based monitoring technologies like radar lack range and coverage, and dark vessels abound. Our objective was to assess vessel congregation patterns, identify likely beaching areas based on terrain maps, and use them to narrow the search for potential smuggling transfer and overland routes in a specific region along the Puntland coast of Somalia. To accomplish this goal, we developed automated protocols applied to WorldView satellite imagery for (1) vessel detection and size classification, (2) shallow-water bathymetric characterization, and (3) coastal topography mapping. Utilizing a single sensor for vessel detection and topographic and bathymetric extraction at high spatial resolution and at a high re-visit rate provides a simplification to near-shore characterization for monitoring purposes. The extracted topography and bathymetry are then presented as a single, comprehensive perspective of a coastal region. The vessel-detection algorithm identified all vessels larger than approximately 15 metres in length (35 of 35), but misidentified six artefacts (i.e. false positives), resulting in an overall accuracy of 85%. The combined vessel and terrain maps facilitated the identification of a potential beaching and overland transportation route location.