The call came in by radio one evening last September, at around 9 p.m. On the line was the master of a tanker, approaching the end of a monthlong journey from the Port of South Louisiana and carrying more than 5,000 metric tons of ethanol. The message was urgent: The ship’s GPS signal had suddenly disappeared—leaving the crew to navigate Cyprus’s shoreline in the dark.
On the other end of the line was the pilots’ office at the Vasiliko oil terminal, whose staff oversees shipping traffic at Vasiliko’s harbor on Cyprus’s arid, palm-fringed southern coast. Stelios Christoforou, the pilot on duty, recognized the gravity of the situation right away. In daylight, an experienced ship captain can maneuver using paper maps, markers, and the coastline as guides. But at night, GPS becomes a critical tool in unfamiliar waters—especially near Cyprus, where NATO and Russian warships roam. And any accident could spill the tanker’s cargo across miles of coastline.