Germany’s rescue drone will not fly in the Mediterranean

Unmanned systems could help to rescue shipwrecked boats in the Mediterranean. However, a new German sea rescue drone is only to be used in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

Under the name „LARUS“, the German Government develops drones for the rescue of ships in distress. The abbreviation of the drone stands for „Situation support during sea rescue operations by unmanned aeronautical systems“. The system is financed from civil security research funds, for which the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is paying 2.8 million euros.

Several German manufacturers of optical sensors and communications technology, including Deutsche Telekom, are involved in the development under the direction of the Technical University of Dortmund. Because the drone is to be used for sea rescue in Germany, the German Shipwreck Rescue Association and the Federal Maritime Police Inspectorate based in Warnemünde are also on board of the project.

The „LARUS“ has a wingspan of almost four meters and is based on the unmanned aircraft of a Bremen-based company. On the manufacturer’s website, the take-off weight is stated to be 30 kilograms, the drone can carry a payload of around 5 kilograms and remain in the air for three hours. It is not intended to patrol German waters permanently, but to ascend when an emergency call comes in. The drone will then be able to contact the emergency services independently and transmit precise situation information to the rescue units. The position of the shipwrecked is indicated by the „LARUS“ with a laser marker. In this way, the ship can be found even in poor visibility conditions or with night vision devices.

The search and rescue is automated as much as possible. The drones use an autopilot system and orbit over the rescue area. According to the project description, the „LARUS“ is to be integrated into civil airspace. This would mean that the drone would be granted the appropriate approval. Such a certification would be unique in Germany and should enable the „LARUS“ to be used in other areas as well. The Ministry of Research names offshore facilities as well as disaster control.

With the capabilities for sea rescue, the „LARUS“ would also be needed in the Mediterranean. There, the German Navy participated in the military mission EUNAVFOR MED, which was originally set up to combat the „smuggling“ of human beings. The frigates involved were repeatedly ordered to rescue refugee boats by the responsible sea emergency control centres in Italy and Malta.

The Italian headquarters of the EU mission, however, decided in spring to withdraw all the ships and instead to extend air surveillance. Meanwhile, the Italian military regularly uses large Predator drones for this purpose.

Frontex has also been monitoring the Mediterranean with long-range drones since last autumn. The German Federal Police is participating in this operation „Themis“ with 14 officers, but currently not with ships or aircraft. The German sea rescue drone, in which the Federal Police is also involved, is not to fly in the Mediterranean. The German Society for the Rescue of Shipwrecked Persons intends to use it only in the North and Baltic Seas.

Image: German rescue drone „LARUS“ (all rights reserved DGzRS/Michael Rauhe).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.