In response to the UN International Maritime organization’s legislation in 2020 to reduce the limit of sulfur in ship fuel from 3.5% to 0.5%, the EU has started to use remotely piloted aircraft to monitor ship emissions. Indeed, aerial ‘sniffer drones’ have been deployed in a new initiative to inspect ships transiting one the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the strait of Gibraltar. The project carried out by the Spanish General Directorate of Merchant Marine – under the direction of the Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda – is the first time sulfur emissions have been monitored by drones outside the special designation emission control areas (ECA) in Northern Europe. The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has inspected a total of 294 ships since July 12, 2021, 27 of which were in ‘possible breach’ of the sulfur content limits.
The drone, a CAMCOPTER®S100, under contract from the consortium of Nordic Unmanned Norce and UMS Skeldar, automatically measures and records the sulfur levels. If a high sulfur reading is recorded, it triggers an alert in the EMSA THETIS- EU database. These drones have flown twice a day from a base in Tarifa since mid-July 2021 and will continue until the end of October 2021. The aircraft has a flight endurance of over six hours and a range of more than 100km. Whilst this technology can not directly confirm non-compliance, the data can assist port authorities to target specific ships for inspection and further laboratory testing. With the potential for additional ECAs across the world, and greater focus on environmental sustainability, drone technology is likely to play an integral role in monitoring emission levels in the future.