Maritime Surveillance: Helping to Tackle Speeding Traffickers

Amongst the most interesting challenges for law enforcement are small vessels that operate at very high speeds. Often described as ‘Go-Fast Boats’ or ‘Cigarette Boats’, they are frequently used to transport illegal drugs and other illicit goods. Airbus Defence and Space was recently asked to support authorities in the Caribbean to help understand the enforcement challenge presented by traffickers using high-powered boats.

In February, Airbus Defence and Space Intelligence and Telespazio France were contracted by local customs authorities for an observation campaign in the Caribbean Sea, utilising the Trimaran II portal service, which offers strategic support to maritime zone commanders.


Trimaran II employs Airbus’ unique portfolio of satellites and imaging services, including SAT-AIS data, and is augmented by a dedicated photo-interpretation team, available 24/7. The project’s core objective was to detect and identify vessels travelling from the Venezuelan coast, and was conducted using optical images from the cost-effective Sentinel-2 constellation.

Over a five-day period, a total of 35 potentially relevant vessels were detected within the area of interest. Through analysis of each vessel and its navigation behaviour, it was determined that five craft met the criteria of ‘Go-Fast’ boats, with an additional three vessels located west of the Antilles Arc, out of territorial waters, and two further boats observed leaving the coast of Venezuela within the southern part of the observation area.

Maritime uniform - Maritime Surveillance Case Study
  • Cost-effective solution to reduce drug trafficking
  • Provides accurate situational awareness
  • Can be used to justify resource allocation

The information Airbus provided enabled relevant stakeholders to better understand the frequency of journeys and the routes potential traffickers are likely to take. In turn, this intelligence reinforces custom authorities’ capability to maintain effective oversight, and be in a position to more effectively track and intercept criminals on the water.

This project followed a similar challenge in 2017, where imagery and its analysis identified two suspicious catamarans, travelling just 13 seconds apart. Following delivery of the imagery, the French navy launched a mission to intercept and found 1.4 tons of cocaine, with a value of more than €70 million.

Cocaine - Maritime surveillance Case Study


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