Hijacked Oil Tanker found with the Help of Pléiades

By combining the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and the Pléiades satellites, Airbus helped locating the ARIS 13 oil tanker attacked by Somali pirates in only 2 days.

Gulf of Aden Pirates

On 13 March 2017, Somali pirates captured the Aris 13 oil tanker and its eight Sri-Lankan crew members.
Aris 13 was transporting bunker oil from Djibouti to Mogadishu when it was attacked by armed men aboard two skiffs.
The vessel's capture was the first successful hijacking of a commercial vessel by Somali pirates since 2012. The number of attacks has dropped from 168 in 2008 to three unsuccessful attempts in 2014, thanks in particular to the European Union's Operation Atalanta organised within the framework of UN resolutions to counter piracy in the Western Indian Ocean.

Oil tanker on open ocean - Defence case study Pléiades

Once onboard, the pirates cut off all the communication and positioning equipment including the AIS emitter that regularly transmits the vessel's identity, position and course.

Oil tanker by sunset - Defence case study Pléiades

When they lost the AIS signal from Aris 13, CSO Alliance asked Airbus to programme the Pléiades satellites to find the vessel. CSO Alliance is a maritime community of over 400 Company Security Officers in 40 countries formed to counter maritime crime on a global scale.

In Search of the Captured Vessel

Vessel track of Aris 13 tanker from Djibouti to Mogadishu

The Pléiades satellites were programmed using the vessel's last AIS positions. Reports suggested that the oil tanker had travelled West to East outside the MSPA (Maritime Security Patrol Area) corridor in the Gulf of Aden. Upon reaching the easternmost tip of Somalia, it turned back and entered Somali territorial waters where it ceased transmitting its position.

Alula Port Image Interpretation

Identification of vessels in the Area of Interest using Pléiades satellite data

The HQ of the European counter-piracy operation EU NAVFOR Atalanta indicated that the pirates had hijacked the vessel near the port of Alula, on the North coast of Puntland.
Aris 13 was not identified on the image of March15, indicating that it had been diverted to another port.
The satellites were thus re-programmed on other ports along the Somali coast.

Abo Port Image Interpretation

Identification of Aris 13 tanker on a Pléiades satellite image

Aris 13 was identified the next day on a new Pléiades image, North West of the port of Abo. Its length, width and shape matched the vessels' technical characteristics. On the image, its crane on the middle deck is clearly recognisable. Once notified, CSO Alliance informed its network.

Arrest of the Vessel

Frigate out on the ocean

During the night, the coast guards from Puntland commenced negotiations with the pirates and the vessel was freed.
Acting within the framework of Operation Atalanta, the French frigate Courbet established contact with the crew. It adopted a friendly approach to provide medical assistance to one of the seamen. The frigate then escorted Aris 13 to the Somali port of Bosaso.

Logo CSO Alliance Marine

"It is the willingness of Airbus to engage at speed and provide accurate and relevant output in times of stress that is helping shape our relationship. This valuable data combined with other information sources we share not only with our CSOs to better protect their crews, but the Military as we work to develop a two way dialogue with the CSOs of the Merchant Marine."

Mark Sutcliffe,
Director CSO Alliance


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