strait of gibraltar

File Photo: Igor Grochev/Shutterstock

Sniffer Drone Hunts Ships Breaking Sulphur Limits in Strait of Gibraltar

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 2737
September 22, 2021

A sniffer drone has been on the prowl this summer in the busy Strait of Gibraltar in search of ships busting global sulphur emissions regulations.

The operation is being carried out by the Spanish General Directorate of Merchant Marine and marks the first time these emissions have been monitored by drone outside the special designated emission control areas in Northern Europe.

Using European Maritime Safety Agency’s (EMSA) remotely piloted aircraft, the goal of the operation is to detect sulphur oxide emissions breaching limits set out the International Convention on Maritime Pollution (MARPOL – Annex VI). The current limit for sulphur oxide in ship fuels is 0.50% by mass.

Since mid July, the drone has been carrying out two daily 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.

Image Credit: Nordic Unmanned via EMSA

The measurements and records are automatically recorded and breaches trigger an alert in the EMSA THETIS-EU database. While the measurements do not confirm non-compliance directly, the information does help port authorities target ships for inspection and proceed with the lab testing necessary for any eventual sanctions.

The drone, a CAMCOPTER® S100 to be specific, is under contract to EMSA from the consortium of Nordic Unmanned, Norce and UMS Skeldar. The vertical take-off aircraft has a 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.

Flights take off from a base in Tarifa, Spain and are planned to continue until the end of October.

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