Artificial intelligence (AI) can help prevent oil spills, as the cost of clean-up operations has risen to almost US$10Bn for a large slick
Artificial intelligence (AI) can help prevent oil spills, as the cost of clean-up operations has risen to almost US$10Bn for a large slick.
Clean-up costs for a medium-to-large oil spill could be between US$2.4Bn and US$9.4Bn, on top of the high environmental and reputational cost. Which is why governments worldwide use all types of technology to identify and implicate culprits.
AI is a key aspect of these investigations and a deterrent to those seeking to cause marine environmental damage, whether deliberately or accidentally, says AI technology provider Windward’s co-founder and chief executive Ami Daniel.
“While it may not be possible to predict an oil spill, AI and satellite imagery can be harnessed to build a system of deterrence for preventing future disasters,” he explains. “To detect oil spills, government agencies and port authorities need to collect periodic satellite images of their seas.”
AI platforms can automatically analyse these images to spot any signs of a change in the water’s composition. “Should a spill occur, AI systems can effectively establish a timeframe of the event,” says Mr Daniel, “and thereby narrow the list of potential culprits down to vessels that were within the area at the specified time.”
An AI-based system, if widely deployed, would have a powerful deterrent effect on maritime industries. “Shipowners know that the fines and reputational costs associated with spills are extensive, with the potential for severe legal consequences,” says Mr Daniel, “and with advanced technology patrolling the seas, they would have an incentive to behave responsibly and take every precaution needed to avert a spill.”
AI can identify potential polluters far quicker than conventional methods, which can take months to track down the source of a spill. They are also more accurate. “AI platforms offer much greater precision and efficiency,” says Mr Daniel.
“The need for speedier, tech-savvy investigations is all too clear when considering cases like the 2019 Brazilian oil spill, which caused significant damage to the country’s beaches and for which a culprit has yet to be identified.”
Compare this to oil pollution that devastated beaches in Israel earlier this year. Laboratory testing revealed crude oil, not bunker fuel, had been spilled. Windward was able to narrow down the list of potentially culpable vessels based on the type of cargo and location at the time of the spill.
This led the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection to identify tanker, Emerald, as a plausible culprit from illegal ship-to-ship (STS) of crude oil.
“Windward was also able to determine Emerald had engaged in illicit practices, following irregular shipping routes, falsifying cargo, and operating under an opaque ownership structure,” says Mr Daniel, “all of which helped support the investigation’s conclusion.”
AI can identify if oil is spilled from illegal STS transfers.
“By identifying connections among different data, including oil type, the location of the spill, vessel class, and the vessel’s ownership structure, we can help focus an investigation on a narrow list of suspects,” says Mr Daniel.
Using AI more widely during investigations can deter malicious activity leading to pollution and provide a deterrent to safeguard marine environments.
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