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War zone GPS jamming sees more ships show up at airports

Surge in ships hit by signal interference in eastern Mediterranean Sea over past few days, while problem is also worsening in the Black Sea

More than 100 cargo-carrying vessels appeared to show up in Beirut airport yesterday. AIS manipulation, common in the region since Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, has taken off

INCIDENTS of GPS jamming have surged in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, in which ships’ navigation data is manipulated or interfered with near conflict zones.

On April 4, some 117 different cargo-carrying vessels appeared in Beirut-Rafic Al Hariri International airport in Lebanon, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence vessel-tracking data.

Vessels sailing in the eastern Mediterranean first started showing up at this airport — on land — at the end of October.

An average of 35 ships operating in the region were being impacted each day in March.

However, this figure jumped to 74 on April 3 and climbed to 117 on April 4.



Cairo International airport is another spoofed destination in which ships are appearing in, with 45 vessels signalling it as their location yesterday.

The appearance of ships in seemingly impossible locations is a result of global navigation satellite system jamming and is a type of spoofing.

A third-party actor broadcasts a powerful signal, which overrides information received from GPS satellites in orbit, thereby impacting Automatic Identification System data.

Third-party spoofing that is caused by GPS jamming generally affects multiple vessels in a small area. The AIS positions tend to centre on singular areas such as airports, buildings, or in some cases the middle of nowhere.



Thomas Spriggs, data scientist at Lloyd’s List Intelligence said: “We are seeing more vessels stacking up in Beirut airport. The AIS of these vessels, and others impacted throughout the eastern Mediterranean, is infected by spurious GNSS signals meant to confuse military systems that rely on GPS to navigate.

“This GPS jamming has all the same hallmarks as what we previously noticed in the Black Sea with vessels jumping to Moscow airport and mirrors the observations and concerns that are being raised form the aviation sector with plane tracking being disrupted.”

Analysts say the disruption in AIS data in the eastern Mediterranean is most likely caused by Israeli forces as a defensive measure.

Arran Kennedy, a researcher at Control Risks, said: “AIS interference in the eastern Mediterranean is likely to remain elevated as the Israel-Hamas conflict persists — despite its impact on regional shipping, Israel likely sees GPS jamming as essential to reducing the threat to Israeli targets posed by Iran-linked actors launching guided missiles and drones, which rely on GPS technology.”

The Black Sea is another common area for GPS jamming as Russia works to disrupt Ukrainian offensive operations.

The number of vessels appearing in Moscow airport skyrocketed in January and have remained at high volumes.

Kyiv airport has emerged as a new “spoofed” location, with vessels sailing in the eastern Black Sea and around the Kerch Strait showing up here.

On April 1, 227 vessels that were sailing in the Black Sea showed up across several land locations, one of the highest numbers of disrupted vessels since these incidents began.



Vessels sailing in the Red Sea, Middle East Gulf and Arabian Sea have been alerted to potential electronic interference disrupting navigation.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations issued a notice on April 4 asking for masters to report any disruptions within their operating area, covering both the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The announcement followed a report of a vessel in the Middle East Gulf experiencing disruptions to its electronic navigational systems in the early hours of Wednesday.

The UKMTO did not identify who caused the disruption, or why.

Iran is a possible perpetrator given the proximity of the incident to its territory and the fact that it possesses — and has shown — its ability to interfere with navigation systems.

It could also be Iran-linked actors, including the Houthis in Yemen.

I.R. Consilium chief executive Ian Ralby said: “Iran has been more nuanced with its interference of navigation systems, making ships believe they were in subtly different places than they were, and effectively steering them into Iranian waters to make it possible to swarm and arrest them.

"It would therefore be unsurprising if the Houthis, which have used false claims over the radio to try to position vessels, such as True Confidence (IMO: 9460784), to make it easier to attack them, were also to resort to electronic interference.”

Nothing has been confirmed and it is possible other states operating in the region were responsible, he added.

There have been several incidents of GPS interference recorded in the northern part of the Red Sea over the past several months, as well as cases documented outside Jazan, Saudi Arabia and near the Yemen border within the Red Sea.

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