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MASTREC is a collaborative, international project aimed at promoting innovative use of Earth Observation products as an efficient intelligence and surveillance tool to support effective coordination of law enforcement actions in the fight against environmental crime. It uses combined data from Automatic Information Systems (AIS), satellites, Synthetic Aperture Radars (SAR) and optical images to detect and report criminal activities in the environmental sphere. This project is funded by the European Space Agency (ESA).


· Promote the innovative use of Earth Observation products as an efficient surveillance and intelligence tool for a rapid and efficient response to environmental crime;

· Support intelligence reports for law enforcement agencies.


The MASTREC project focuses on the detection of trafficking of illegal rosewood from Madagascar and illegal charcoal from Somalia/Kenya, conducting 2 service trials in each region.

How it works

Satellite radar imagery and the use of AIS can help track vessels and monitor illegal activities. AIS installed on the vessels transmit their position, speed, and destination to shore-based users. The satellite radar or optical data shows all ships present in a certain area. When this information is combined, ships with switched-off AIS transmitters or with deceptive AIS can be traced. When suspicious vessels are spotted, their information and travelling pattern can be inspected. Furthermore, SARs are not weather or daylight-dependent and make it possible to acquire images in near real time, allowing for the detection of non-cooperative vessels. High resolution images can be used for the detection of loading and unloading of illegal cargo.

Service evolution

End users are also requesting the evolution of the service, for it to also provide Earth Observation based information to combat a variety of illegal activities on land (e.g. illegal logging, illegal mining and wildlife poaching).

Service trail: Charcoal trafficking

One of the service trails focuses on illegal charcoal trafficking. Profits from illegal, illicit or unregulated charcoal trade in the East, Central and West Africa are estimated approximately in the range of 2.4-9 billion USD and may be used for financing other illegal activities, including smuggling of weapons and terrorism. The unregulated trade in charcoal is suggested to lead to a loss of 1.9 billion USD annually for African countries.

Main identified routes of interest for charcoal trafficking lie between Somalia, Kenya and the Gulf States. The first trial steps of this project include the identification of vessels exhibiting suspicious behavior, based on actual and historical AIS data, followed by the analyses of available satellite imagery. Once these suspicious vessels are determined, a detailed study of their routes is undertaken, which can provide additional information on the loading/unloading and transit areas.

Users and stakeholders

MASTREC’s end users are those in the law enforcement sector. In the scope of this project INTERPOL acts as a focal point. Stakeholders include the Worldbank and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Tags: transboundary governance environmental crime Asia China waste waste and material resources


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