Planet SkySat image of the oil tanker Riah outside of an Iranian Navy port along the Strait of Hormuz © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Krissy is Planet's wordsmith. She loves writing about rocket science and innovative technologies, among other Earth-shaking topics.

Tanker Seizures, the 737 MAX Stack Up, and North Korea’s Submarines


Satellite imagery continues to inform journalists in their investigative reporting. Here are some of the biggest stories that used data from space to break news.

Maritime Mystery-Solving

SkySat image of the seized tanker Stena Impero moored outside the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas | Analysis by TankerTrackers © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Recently, two oil tankers were seized by Iranian naval forces, who then turned off radio transponders that allowed the tankers’ locations and identities to be tracked, or so they thought.

As reported in BBC, Wired and Quartz, Planet satellites captured imagery of the tankers. One was the Riah tanker and another was a British-flagged oil tanker called Stena Impero, both of which were seized along the Strait of Hormuz outside Iranian Navy ports. Since the seizure, France and Germany have condemned the actions of Iran and an alert has been issued by the US Maritime Administration for vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz.

Plane Spotting

SkySat image of 737 MAX planes parked at Boeing Field © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Featured in Forbes, satellite imagery showed that aerospace company Boeing has assembled roughly 180 737 MAXs over the last four months—all of which have been building up in three different locations since aviation safety regulators required the planes to be grounded.

In Renton, Washington as of July 21st, 60 planes were in a section of the Boeing Field close to the 737 factory; in Moses Lake, Washington, 40 could be seen from Planet’s satellites; and on July 18 at Boeing’s San Antonio maintenance facility, 30 planes were collecting in the area.

The 737 MAX was grounded by authorities after two crashes in a five month span, according to Forbes, and it’s not certain when they will take to the air again—though Boeing hopes to return to service later this year.

Submariner Center Sighting

© 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved. Submarine analysis by Dave Schmerler at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterrey (MIIS)

Satellite imagery revealed the construction of what appears to be a submariner training center in North Korea, according to NK PRO, which has been nearing completion over the past three months. The center includes what look like two training pools, a possible training academy courtyard, and an escape tower, NK PRO says—and the center could “increase the training capacity of North Korea’s submarine fleet on their east coast.”

This news may be concerning to some, considering the fact that North Korea has just revealed images of new submarines that could potentially carry nuclear weapons. This could mean that the “country may have gained a very dangerous, stealthy ability to threaten the US and its allies,” says Vox.

Journalists! Planet imagery can be useful for reporters who are investigating important issues. You can sign up for a Planet Explorer account—free for the first two weeks—to unlock the potential for visual and compelling stories.

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