According to the Roadmap of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), in 2022, which is now beginning, the development of the capabilities of remotely piloted aircraft, commonly known as drones (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems or RPAS), will continue, especially regarding the detection of possible pollutant emissions from merchant ships exceeding the limits established in Annex VI of the International Convention on Marine Pollution (MARPOL). Sulphur content limit for marine fuels is currently set at 0.5 % by mass.
By 2022, these drones are also expected to be able to monitor the NOx content of smoke from ships underway, in addition to the SOx mentioned above.
In fact, during 2021, emission control campaigns were already carried out with drones in the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar, Lithuania, France, and the Baltic Sea. Specifically, in relation to the deployment of the drone in the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar between July and October, EMSA, together with the Directorate General of the Merchant Navy and Harbor Master of Algeciras, carried out a total of 319 controls on different merchant vessels while they were sailing through the Strait, detecting possible non-compliance in twenty-eight (28) of the vessels.
Although the readings obtained using these novel aerial means may be indicative of excess sulphur marine fuel consumption, they do not directly result in the initiation of a sanctioning proceeding or in the imposition of a penalty for the monitored vessel. In order to corroborate the preliminary drone readings, a detailed Port State Control (PSC) inspection will always be required upon arrival of the ship in port, together with the corresponding sampling of the fuels used during the voyage.
After this inspection and chemical analysis of the fuel samples obtained, if the sulphur reading is above 0.5 % by mass, the corresponding Harbor Master’s Office will initiate an administrative sanctioning proceeding against the “ISM Manager” and against the master of the inspected vessel, and the vessel will be provisionally detained until sufficient guarantees have been provided at the discretion of the responsible Harbor Master’s Office.
The data obtained from the drone measurements are also communicated to the THETIS-EU database, also managed by EMSA. The purpose of this is to effectively monitor the non-compliance detected and to establish a system of alerts for the different maritime administrations of the Member States of the European Union, facilitating thus the taking of appropriate measures to prevent and/or sanction the aforementioned typified conducts.