Cyber attack could have potentially led to Wakashio’s grounding

To remind, on July 25, the Wakashio ship diverted its navigation plan, approved at the time of sailing from Singapore bound for Brazil. The ship leaked more than 1,000 tonnes of bunker fuel and split in two after its grounding on July 25.

The initial investigation revealed that a factor that led to the vessel’s grounding was the wrong charts, linking the casualty to the ship’s ECDIS.

Now, the Nishan Degnarain of Forbes, closely followed the incident, noted that the anomaly on the ship’s ECDIS seemed bizarre. This is because Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) had several protective systems which should have prevented the grounding:

  • Safety Operation Supporting Centre – real time tracking of MOL-operated vessels which alerts to any ships in difficulty.
  • Marine Technical Group – which agreed course changes, to avoid bad weather etc.
  • Inspection Team – which highlights vessel vulnerabilities.

Therefore, Forbes notes that one of the largest ships ever built having been off course for days without anyone being aware and then being grounded while it was at cruising speed seems strange.

It is also highlighted that in the end it wasn’t the MOL’s safety systems that reported the grounding at all, but the ship’s owner. For this to happen in this way, each of the above systems must have failed, in of itself a remarkable situation.

In addition, Forbes provides more information about the incident from industry experts including Captain John Konrad who described in further detail how the ship could have been hacked. In his opinion the options include: GPS hacking, although this may have been too hard; hacking prior to departure, although this is unlikely given Covid-19 restrictions; and the most feasible option – navigational computer hacking.

Concluding, to better understand the possibility that the vessel may have been hacked, Ken Munro, a leading maritime cyber security expert, listed four major risks to modern shipping from cyber threats: vessels being sent off course due to tampering with the onboard navigational systems; vessel speeds being manipulated via erroneous log data or echo sound data; tampering with engine sensor data; and vessels being incorrectly loaded. All these could have grave consequences for the ship in question.

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