In the summer of 2012, an oil tanker anchored mid-ocean transferred cargo for 19 hours. Separately, a ship en route to the Philippines turned its location-broadcasting system on and off, disappearing and reappearing every 36 hours.
These anomalies of maritime behavior, which occur daily, would have probably gone undetected in the past. Today, advanced satellite imaging and communications technology, coupled with analytical software developed by an Israeli startup called Windward, identifies potential illegal activity in real time.
Based in Tel Aviv, Windward was founded four years ago by two Israeli naval officers. Ami Daniel, the chief executive officer, served on a warship called the Hanit (meaning “spear”), which was blindsided by a Silkworm missile during the 2006 Lebanon War.
The algorithms Windward developed were initially intended to tackle illegal fishing by analyzing and profiling normative patterns in sea traffic. The entrepreneurs discovered that their technology could also be used to monitor unusual behavior near, say, oil-drilling ports in Libya.
"Everything affects everything else in the sea,” Daniel said in an interview. "We see when things are beginning to happen. We give you the insight first because we can see when patterns start changing.”
To cash in on that ability, Windward has set its sights on the oil and gas industry. The startup’s investors estimate that the market could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, on top of a comparable amount from homeland-security clients. Windward has about 10 customers that include law-enforcement agencies, navies and governments using the software to gather information and to detect smugglers. While Somali pirates have posed a threat to international shipping, the technology isn't designed to deal with piracy.
Eden Shochat, a partner at Israeli venture-capital firm Aleph, which invested $5 million in Windward late last year, said the big-data startup is one of the country’s most promising new companies. "We absolutely see Windward as the next big company, like Waze,” Shochat said in an interview.
Breaking into the oil and gas market is more difficult than other industries, but once a business has developed a solid reputation, clients tend to be quite loyal, Adi Karev, the global head of oil and gas at consulting firm Deloitte, said in an interview.
"What makes this company unique is that its analytics can be used for a number of predictive and preventive decisions,” Karev said. "It will take time to ramp up, and it will require sensitivity and understanding."