Drones find possible sulfur violations on 10% of ships near Gibraltar

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EMSA drones have been flying over the strait since July (photo Nordic Unmanned)

Posted on Sep 21, 2021 5:57 PM by

The maritime executive

The Spanish authorities, in collaboration with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), are deploying drones on the busy shipping lanes of the Strait of Gibraltar to monitor the level of sulfur oxides released by ships navigating the one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. EMSA said the program, which is an extension of similar efforts previously carried out in specially designated emission control areas in northern Europe, has identified nearly 10% of vessels passing through the Strait of Gibraltar for a further inspection to detect possible violations of current sulfur regulations.

EMSA’s remotely piloted aircraft (RPAS) carried out two daily flights with an average of ten inspections per day as part of an operation led by the Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda. Led by the Spanish Directorate General of the Merchant Navy, the program began its flights in mid-July from a base in Tarifa and will continue until the end of October.

According to an EMSA report, current figures indicate that a total of 294 have been monitored and 27 have been found in possible violation of the 0.5% sulfur content limits in their fuel. The measurements and records are automatically encoded in the information exchange system which triggers an alert in the EMSA THETIS-EU database. Although EMSA notes that this does not directly confirm the non-compliance, it helps port authorities target ships for inspection and perform the necessary laboratory tests to confirm the composition of the fuel. Violations can lead to possible sanctions.

The project to test the effectiveness of drones in measuring polluting emissions from ships was set up by the Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (MITMA), in collaboration with the Harbor Master’s Office of ‘Algeciras and the General Directorate of the Merchant Navy. Using EMSA remotely piloted aircraft systems, the objective is to detect sulfur oxide emissions above levels indicating a possible violation of the International Convention on Marine Pollution (MARPOL – Annex VI).

The aircraft used is a CAMCOPTER S100 and it is under contract with the EMSA of the consortium of Nordic Unmanned, Norce and UMS Skeldar. It has several features that make it a useful tool for service, including the ability to take off and land vertically from an area less than 25 square meters, a flight range of over six hours, and a range of over 60. miles. To help detect gases generated by fuel combustion and expelled from ship’s funnels, the aircraft is fitted with gas sensors and cameras that cover both optical and infrared spectral ranges.

The Spanish program is the first time that monitoring has been carried out beyond the emission control areas of Northern Europe. Danish and French authorities have worked with EMSA in the past on similar test programs to monitor emissions.

Remotely piloted aircraft system services are offered free of charge to all EU Member States by EMSA. They were developed to assist maritime surveillance and ship emission control operations and can operate in all seas surrounding the European Union. RPAS services can support traditional Coast Guard functions, including search and rescue and pollution prevention and response. EMSA plans to further expand its RPAS program in 2022.


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