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EMSA drone used for monitoring sulphur emissions from ships along Gibraltar Strait

22 Sep 2021

European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) on Tuesday (21 September) said it has been using its remotely piloted aircraft to monitor the level of sulphur oxides released by ships transiting the Strait of Gibraltar, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. 

The operation carried out by the Spanish General Directorate of Merchant Marine under the direction of the Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda marks the first time these emissions have been monitored by drone outside the special designated emission control areas in Northern Europe. 

The flights have been in operation since mid-July from a base in Tarifa and will continue until the end of October.  

The project designed to test the effectiveness of drones in measuring pollutant emissions from ships was set up by the Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (MITMA), in collaboration with the Algeciras Maritime Captaincy and the General Directorate of Merchant Marine. 

Using EMSA’s remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), the goal is to detect sulphur oxide emissions above a certain level indicating a possible breach of the International Convention on Maritime Pollution;  tThe current limit for sulphur oxide in ship fuels is 0.50% by mass, says EMSA.

The aircraft used is a CAMCOPTER® S100 and it is under contract to EMSA from the consortium of Nordic Unmanned, Norce and UMS Skeldar. It has several features making it a useful tool for the service, including the ability to take off and land vertically from an area less than 25 square meters, flight endurance of over six hours and a range of more than 100 km. 

To help detect the gases generated by fuel combustion and expelled through ship funnels, the aircraft is equipped with gas sensors and cameras that cover both optical and infrared spectral ranges.

Since 12 July, the RPAS has been carrying out daily two flights with an average of ten inspections per day. Current figures show that of 294 vessels inspected some 27 were found in possible breach of the limits of sulphur content 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. While this does not confirm non-compliance directly, it does help port authorities target ships for inspection and proceed with the lab testing necessary for any eventual sanctions.


Photo credit: Nordic Unmanned
Published: 22 September, 2021

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