Grain Trail: Tracking Russia’s Ghost Ships with Satellite Imagery
The main grain terminal at the Port of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea has fallen quiet in recent years – at least according to ship monitoring services.
Automated Identification Systems (AIS) tracking data, which provides open source information on the positioning and movement of ships, shows few vessels visiting the Avlita grain terminal since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2015.
International sanctions on the city of Sevastopol and the Avlita terminal (which has also been referred to as Aval in some media reports and registers) could explain why traffic has seemingly been so low.
But other open sources paint a radically different picture of events at the terminal.
Satellite imaging services such as Planet, social media posts and a new Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) tool built as part of Bellingcat’s Tech Fellowship scheme, show that vessels have in fact covertly continued to make regular visits.
Bellingcat identified at least 179 days in the first 12 months of Russia’s full-scale invasion where ships had been present at the Avlita terminal with their AIS transponders seemingly turned off.