Sanctions Advisories for the Maritime Industry

Practical challenges and recommendations for financial institutions regarding the monitoring of AIS outages and suspicious vessel activity


The U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the United Kingdom’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) advisories on shipping published in May and December 20201, respectively, contained a number of new recommendations for financial institutions (FIs) to recognise and implement. Many of the risk factors that FIs are encouraged to appreciate include specialist maritime information not readily available or widely known within the banking or insurance sector. For example, identifying commodities and trade corridors where transshipment and ship-to-ship (STS) transfers take place.

Additionally, the advisories place an increasing emphasis on Automatic Identification System (AIS) technology, used to track and monitor vessels in near real-time, as a potential due diligence risk factor. AIS sends information on the ships movement, speed, direction and other particulars via satellite and terrestrial stations. While AIS offers the ability to pinpoint the routes and patterns of a ship’s travel, it does have a core weakness in that the AIS service can be disabled by the ship’s crew, thus, preventing the tracking of the vessel. While there are legitimate reasons for AIS to be switched off, AIS manipulation and disablement can be performed by those seeking to bypass global economic sanctions. For example, vessels may turn off AIS when they approach sanctioned countries or conduct illicit STS transfers in high-risk locations.

The encouragement by OFAC and OFSI to investigate a vessel’s historical AIS outages prior to business engagement, coupled with real-time monitoring of individual, risky transactions will potentially increase the burden of trade operations and risk/ compliance teams as they perform day to day tasks.

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