Historically, there has been no data on ship activity while at sea. Today, maritime data sources have gone online thanks to satellites and the cloud, producing over 100 million data points a day. However, nearly all maritime data is derived from human input, making it susceptible to both error and manipulation. As a result, the opaqueness that has characterized the maritime domain for millennia remains, and the oceans, particularly the areas outside of a country's territorial waters, are a wild west.
Unsurprisingly, criminal elements are taking advantage of this lack of regulation. Vessels can easily mask their activities by employing a broad range of tactics, from changing identities to making ship-to-ship transfers of goods mid-voyage.
And, because ports serve as critical economic links, it is nearly impossible for authorities to closely inspect each vessel for fear of massive backlogs and economic repercussions. Authorities thus rely on dated methods of identifying suspicious activities at sea, such as tracking a limited number of "vessels of interest," known for past suspicious behavior.
And so, the coastline is an open backdoor through which all forms of illegal and terrorist activity can easily enter, even well-secured ports.
So, how do we close the open door?