Policing the seas: drone-based emission monitoring

by | 11th May 2020 | News

Home News Policing the seas: drone-based emission monitoring

The Naval Architect: May 2020Policing the seas


More commonly referred to as drones, RPAS can be used for a range of governmental tasks, including emissions monitoring, which support the enforcement of the EU Sulphur Directive 2016/802, explains Leendert Bal, head of department safety, security and surveillance at the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).


EMSA have six large drones and nine smaller models under contract, weighing between 23-235kg with an endurance range of 6-12 hours. Lightweight drones are fitted with SOx and CO2 sensors, known as sniffers, which measure the emission content present in a vessel’s plume.


The agency’s RPAS are already in active service; they operated in Denmark both in 2017 and between April and June last year and in 2020 the agency has plans to carry out operations in The Netherlands, Greece and France.


The sniffers installed on the drones are solely for measuring carbon and sulphur emissions, however Bal notes that the technology’s potential extends beyond this. “There are all varieties of sniffer technology, if we want to measure black carbon emissions or other small particles in the future, then the technology is already there.”


During an emission monitoring operation, the dual mini sniffer on the RPAS measures the target vessel, Bal explains: “Once the wind direction and plume location is determined, the drone will approach the vessel, enter the plume, and collect CO2 and SOx measurements to calculate the fuel sulphur content. Quite often, this process is repeated twice for an average calculation, to get a precise reading. This information will be added to a central database available to all member states, so that when this vessel comes into port the authorities can follow up on the results.”


Although Bal notes that the sniffer can reach an accuracy of +/- 0.03 for 0.10% sulphur fuel, he adds that the measurement is not utilised for prosecution purposes. “It’s more of an indicator as to whether the ship is compliant or not with the sulphur regulations.”


He also stresses that the accuracy of the agency’s RPAS is not the reason why its readings aren’t yet used in prosecutions. “We are dependent upon national authorities and what they want to accept as evidence. As RPAS is new technology, it needs to reach a certain level of acceptance before it will be used for a specific vessel.”


Bal notes that the drone industry in Europe is still fairly immature and the EU’s experience with it is limited. Despite this, the level of interest is high and EMSA has received requests from 15 member states.


However, Bal adds that the drone deployment is complex as there is no general, overriding legislation in place relevant to drones in airspace and the agency has to treat each loan independently. The issue is compounded as some interested countries have stringent aviation authorities and it can be difficult to receive the necessary permits to carry out the operation, he explains.


Although EMSA’s minimum RPAS deployment is three months, the agency hopes to extend this to allow users to experience the technology’s full capabilities. “The data needs to be integrated into how the member state collect and work with the information on a national level in their overall surveillance chain.”


Bal admits that along with a small market, the cost is also high, he explains: “It’s fully financed by the agency; the member states only have to take care of local costs that enable the drone to operate in that particular location.”


Bal anticipates a change in the agency’s annual budget, which is approximately US$87 million (€80 million). “My expectation is that in the next two or three years there will be an expansion of this type of service and most likely a larger proportion will be fed from surveillance to emission monitoring.”

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