Ana sayfa Yazarlar Dr. Stephan Pıazza Alternative Use of Drones by Maritime Authorities

Alternative Use of Drones by Maritime Authorities

My contribution to this month’s issue will focus on the growing use by the European Maritime Safety Agency (“EMSA”) of Remotely Piloted Airborne Systems, more familiarly known as drones. Such tools have always been associated with leisure activities connected to the entertainment industry or to military related activities. In order to reach its statutory goals, EMSA has however gone further by enhancing their function through the use of sophisticated systems worth millions of Euros in public tenders.

What is the European Maritime Safety Agency? 

EMSA is a European agency based in Lisbon, set up in 2002 following the Erika and the Prestige accidents (1999 and 2002 respectively) resulting in oil spills over the shorelines of France and Spain. Following such events it was felt that prevention and post-oil spill action should be a matter dealt through a holistic approach on a continental level and not left within the remit of a single country. EMSA was set up with the intention to provide technical support to the European Commission and to the EU’s Member States in all those matters concerning the development and the implementation of the EU legislation on maritime safety, ships-originated pollution and maritime security. EMSA is also involved in matters concerning oil pollution response, vessel monitoring and long range identification and tracking of vessels.

Why has EMSA decided to use drones? 

One of EMSA’s objectives is the improvement of coastguard monitoring and surveillance of maritime activity. In fact through the use of drones (in conjunction with the use of pilots, long-range antennae, mission control vehicles and ground crew), Member States will be given the possibility to take immediate action when illicit activities are happening beyond their respective shores. A similar initiative was adopted by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore in order to combat oil spill.

EMSA’s intention is that of reaching those areas of the sea and ocean that are not within the visual line of sight in order to assist in border control activities, search & rescue operations and monitoring of vessels’ CO2 emissions, as well as the detection of illegal fishing and drug and people trafficking. Moreover, drones are also used for purposes of vessel-tracking in the investigation of such criminal activities as well as the monitoring of suspicious activities.

The information obtained by EMSA will also be shared with sister agencies such as the European Fisheries Control Agency and Frontex which, following the approval of the European Commission’s 2015 “border package” was transformed into the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (“EBCG”) with ultimate purpose of supporting national coast guard authorities.

How do drones work? 

Drones would be based on board of ships and from there be able to reach specific areas of interest. Drones would thereafter collect necessary information and pass the same on to the particular users.

Drones are able to depart vertically also from the shore line and will be able to withstand storm force wind and heavy rain, snow and salt spray.


Due to the quality of their images, their ability to cover long and human-unfriendly regions (including even the penetration of hurricanes) as well as their fair acquisition and maintenance costs, drones are deemed increasingly reliable and have become extremely popular in our day-to-day lives. They are used regularly not just for war and military purposes, but also for wildlife and atmospheric research, survey of archaeological sites and areas subject to natural disasters or illegal hunting.

The use of such technology is indeed something to be welcomed with a positive outlook. The interest shown by other maritime administrations in the world is also a tangible proof in this respect. Existing satellite technologies can pick out smaller crafts used to ship 30 people though their use is restricted in other situations, such as at night.  Use of drones would involve a lesser amount of people usually deployed to patrol our coasts, with less energy consumed and reduced maintenance costs connected with the use of helicopters, planes or patrol boats. Drones will also play an important part in the near future when the regulatory role of maritime administrations in the monitoring and control of vessels’ CO2 emissions will be furthermore enhanced. Drones could also be used by private armed guards in the fight against modern piracy, for example, to patrol undetected areas surrounding a particular vessel’s area of operation. The main issue relating the use of such devices concerns the lack of Europe-wide rules for traffic management of drones ahead of the launch of its own fleet. Absence of such rules risks frustrating EMSA’s efforts to launch services this year and forcing same to enter into one-to-one discussions with national coast guards. In this respect it is believed that talks between EASA and EuroControl (EU’s air traffic control body) are necessary and should be actively stimulated in order to avoid situations whereby EMSA would be forced to ask each and every Member State permission to fly.