OSINT: Investigating Shipping Companies

Shipping companies can be one of the best kinds of companies to investigate on the Internet because they often include much more public information than regular companies.

OSINT: Investigating Shipping Companies

Shipping companies can be one of the best kinds of companies to investigate on the Internet because they often include much more public information than regular companies.

Shipping Registrations

With any company, the best place to start is a quick google search of its name to find a website or press. If the company of interest has neither, the next place to look is the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The International Maritime Organization's Global Integrated Shipping Information System (IMO-gisis) is an official internationally-recognized registry for the shipping industry and it is the primary place to lookup ships and shipping companies.

This is a deep web database that allows one to search based on company name or IMO number. Ships can be looked up based on current and past names, IMO number, call sign, and MMSI number.

It is worth noting that ships and shipping companies need to register and obtain IMO numbers--which are unique identifiers that prove registration--to operate legitimately in the shipping industry.

To search this database, go to "gisis.imo.org," and then click on the "Gisis:ships and companies particulars" section. One needs to signup for a free "public user" account, which is fast and simple.

If one successfully finds a company in this database, the results will identify the country and postal address listed for the company. The next step may be to look up the company's registration in that country.

Returning to IMO-gisis, the results for a company search will also include identifying if the company is a registered owner, operator, or manager of any ships and how many.

However, the database will not actually identify which ships are registered to the company. More on that later.

How to Identify a Company's Ships

If one knows the name of a company but not which ships it operates (possibly as a result of searching for it in IMO-gisis), the first option to solve this problem would be to look if the company has a website. Many shipping companies and yachting companies have websites.

A second option is to go to World Shipping Register (WSR), which is possibly the only site that will let one search for free for a ship based on its owner or operator.

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Once you have determined that the company is, for example, registered to operate 6 ships, you put this data into WSR.

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In this example you can take the outputs from the IMO-gisis (that the company is registered to operate 7 ships and the company's IMO number) search in the WSR for ships that are operated by the company IMO number obtained from the IMO database. This database will now identify for you the ships operated by your company, and will give you the ships' current names, former names, and IMO numbers. The ship's name often changes but the IMO number does not. The database will also identify the other companies that own and manage the the same ship.

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Tracking a Ship's Location

Now that you have ship names and ship IMO numbers, you can search for those in Maritime Traffic (marinetraffic.com), Vessel Tracker, or Vessel Finder. These sites are good tools for tracking ships. By searching on a ship's IMO number or current name, you can find its last port, its last registered location and planned route (you need to pay for historic data of a ship's travels) in addition to the kind of ship is is and possibly photos of the ship.

AIS Data: AIS is an Automatic Identification System that allows near real-time tracking of ships at sea. Ships are required to use transponders to identify their location, though some ships may choose to turn off their transponders. Doing so is sometimes a mark of illicit activity


A BIC code will be assigned to each container and are registered at bic-code.org where the code will allow one to look up the owner of the cargo.

Bill of Lading

Bill of Lading  gives details about the cargo. The free version of Enigma "Enigma Public" (public.enigma.com) and Panjiva can find bills of lading. Returning to Enigma Public, here one can search on almost anything, the name or number of a ship, company or shipping container will often give you bills of lading fo shipment that are connected to the US in some way. On the right, you can click on files for explanations of the data. There is not always information filled out in each section of a bill of lading. However, one can assume that a bill of lading will have enough information to determine where, when, and who sent the cargo, who shipped it, and who received it.

Past Violations

A great way to get additional background information about a ship or shipping company is to look for instances of violating laws and regulations. First and foremost one can do a quick google search on the company or the ship.

The next step is to look for negative information about the parties in deep web databases that therefore would not be discoverable with a google search. Note that the contents of a deep web database, by definition, cannot be found via google.

There are a number of websites that have records of ships and companies committing violations of different shipping regulations.

Parismou.org, Equasis.org, and Tokyo-mou.org provide access to records on occasions when specific ships were subject to inspections or detentions. This enables one to find out if the ships managed by a company of interest ran into trouble with authorities in foreign countries, whether they were fined, temporarily impounded, etc. for violating regulations. These three sites have access to different sources of information, for example Tokyo-MOU is focused on Asia and Paris-MOU is focused on Europe.

Enigma-Public - The US and several foreign governments will identify companies as suspicious entities publicly. However, in the case of the US government, this information is often in deep web databases that are discoverable in Enigma Public via its basic search functions for companies or ships.

Additional background information about shipping companies

If you want to build out the network more, lookup connections with the companies in opencorporates.com.

OpenCorporates - You can lookup the companies in OpenCorporates, find their registered officers, and then search on the officers' names in opencorporates for other companies they are affiliated with. Now you can also conduct

Whois searches on the company websites to see if an officer from one company registered another's website or if the registrant for one company's website used an email domain for anther company.

Enigma Public - you can search for past activities of the ships or companies here by just searching the "company search" function to see if the company has conducted other activities with different ships or companies in the past. These relationships can be indicative of other kinds of connections, sometimes illegal.

you can also compare addresses for companies in the IMO-gisis and OpenCorporates. Many companies are linked unofficially but officially separate, however they have the same postal address.

Company officers may be discovered on a company's website or in its business registration on OpenCorporates. These individuals can be searched in LinkedIn for further company affiliations. If an employee of one company is discovered working for another, this can be normal business but it can also be a sign of a shell company.

Ship Crews

You can also search for people working on the ships themselves by searching for the ship name or call sign in different job-relted social media platforms such as Marine-Connector.com, MyShip.com, and LinkedIn. It is also worth searching standard social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook in order to find people that identify their affiliation with a given ship. Usually, if something like a name or number is on these platforms you can find it by using google instead of logging in.

That's it, good luck with your investigations!

Learn More About The Images We Choose

Today we are celebrating the work of artist Zaki Abdelmounim and joining him in his hunt for what's left of Hong Kong's iconic neon signs, an essential element of this cityscape's visual culture, covering HK's streets for years with glow. We will roam the dazzling roads aimlessly reminiscing about a dystopian past that only existed in neo-noire cult fiction movies like Blade Runner, trying to burn these lively picturesque streets into our memories before they vanish, all while figuring out how to thrive creatively in this organized chaos. Hopefully this vaporwave stylized series of street photography will bring as much joy as it did to us.

The beautiful image used in this article was created by Zaki Abdelmounim.