Timor-Leste, 12 June 2023 - When floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, miles away from the nearest shore, the last thing you want to experience is a medical emergency aboard a disabled ship.
But that’s what happened to an unlucky crew member on a disabled vessel in Timor Leste’s waters, who needed to be evacuated to a hospital urgently. Luckily, the maritime surveillance equipment previously provided to Timor-Leste from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) supported the country’s maritime police to carry out a rapid and successful Search and Rescue operation.
The support package, funded by the Government of Japan, included an Automatic Identification System (AIS), computers, display screens, Uninterruptible Power Supply system and software, aimed to enhance the maritime surveillance capabilities of the Maritime Police Unit of Timor Leste’s National Police (PNTL).
The package is one example of a variety of updated technology and equipment that the UNODC Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) has been providing to help strengthen the maritime surveillance capabilities of law enforcement agencies around the world.
AIS data is one low-cost solution that can help Member States enhance surveillance over their maritime zones. To avoid collisions, large vessels of 300 gross tons or over are required to carry AIS transponders and display their AIS signal in international waters. And although it isn’t mandatory, many smaller vessels, such as fishing boats, also carry AIS transponders for navigational safety and security.
Therefore, by utilizing the AIS data effectively, maritime law enforcement agencies can locate an AIS-transmitting vessel, trace the routes of the vessel, and detect irregularity in the vessel’s behavior patterns. This can help states improve the overall maritime governance and strengthen operational capabilities to detect maritime crime, including maritime drug trafficking and fisheries crime.
It can also aid search and rescue missions, such as the one conducted in Timor-Leste’s waters. On Tuesday, 9 May 2023, an overflying helicopter received and relayed a Very High FrequencyVHF call from the disabled international vessel with the crew member suffering from a serious medical condition.
The Timor-Leste Maritime Police (UPM) was able to use the AIS system provided by UNODC to immediately identify the vessel’s position and reach the ship quickly. With the crew member medically evacuated, UPM then coordinated the recovery of the disabled vessel and the remaining crew to safety.
Noting the successful operation, the Commander of the UPM says: “We are so grateful to UNODC for their support to us, and this incident just shows how valuable this assistance is. We look forward to continuing our partnership with UNODC to further strengthen our maritime capability.”
Besides providing equipment support, UNODC GMCP has also pioneered the provision of satellite-based technology and other maritime surveillance tools to help countries detect and track ‘dark vessels’, or vessels that purposely turn off their AIS signal.
Various Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) training courses are also delivered to law enforcement agencies around the world, thereby strengthening their analysis skills to effectively detect suspicious vessels and illicit activities at sea.
Monitoring a large maritime domain and detecting illicit activities in the vast ocean have never been an easy task, but with the introduction of the latest technology and tools, UNODC will continue to help Member States strengthen their maritime surveillance capabilities, improve maritime operations, and ensure the safety and security of navigation for all.