North and Baltic Sea: German authority orders EU drone surveillance

In several projects, the German Federal Police is testing drones in maritime environments. So far, the unmanned aircrafts have to fly in restricted areas, but soon they could be integrated into civil airspace. The Ministry of Transportation, which responsible for this, is now asking the European Union to provide drone flights.

The German Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) has requested drone flights from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). In coordination with the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), to which the BSH is accountable. The BMVI is now providing details in its response to a parliamentary question.

Accordingly, it is a three-month test phase which is intended to supplement the BSH’s ship exhaust gas measurement network. The authority will use it to examine the gas plumes of passing ships and calculate the fuel sulfur content, which in Germany may only contain 0.1 percent.The drones should also map tidal flats and shallow water areas. The ministry is not writing whether this is done for the construction of further offshore facilities.

Services for coastguards and Frontex

The „Hermes 900“ is now also capable of dropping life rafts (all rights reserved Elbit).

The German drone missions already scheduled for spring were postponed due to the corona crisis. The BMVI itself had not made the plans public, they only became known through a question to the EU Commission by MEP Özlem Demirel. According to the inquiry, EMSA has extended its drone service, which started in 2018, to numerous other European countries. Flights are either for maritime surveillance, migration control or the measurement of emissions.

EMSA drones first flew for the coast guard of Iceland. This year, the agency is providing further services for Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, France and the EU border agency Frontex. Great Britain monitors the English Channel with EMSA drones; in future the country wants to acquire its own unmanned aircraft.

The British coast guard is currently testing the Israeli model „Hermes 900“, which EMSA also flies off Iceland, on its own responsibility. The long-range drone can now also transport and drop life rafts.

Chemical sensors and cameras on board

The „Ouranos“ flown by EMSA from Greece (all rights reserved ALTUS).

According to the BMVI, it is still unclear which drones will be used in Germany. EMSA offers unmanned aircraft of various sizes; for emission monitoring, the agency lists four different models: The „Ouranos“ by ALTUS from Crete and the „Ogassa“ by UAVision from Portugal as so-called fixed-wing aircraft and the Swedish „SkeldarV-200“ by Nordic Unmanned and the „S-100“ by Schiebel from Austria as helicopter drones. For the pursuit of environmental pollution, EMSA also rents the quadrocopter „Indago“ from the US armaments company Lockheed Martin.
The payload of these models is in the low double-digit range from five kilograms upwards. For flights over the North and Baltic Seas, the drone, which is yet to be determined, will carry sensors for measuring carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, and cameras for hydrographic surveying. According to the ministry, it is not yet possible to say from which airfields the aircraft will take off.

Because drones cannot fly in general, civil airspace, restricted areas must be set up for this purpose. The Ministry of Transport is also responsible for this.

Tests by federal police

DLR’s „superARTIS“ is also used by the German Federal Police (all rights reserved DLR).

Since 2013, the Federal Police have also been testing drones in the North and Baltic Seas. A rotary-wing drone from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and a „Tron“ from the German company Quantum, which also takes off vertically, have been used there. Initially, the MaRPAS project focused on testing take-offs and landings on coast guard vessels, and drones were to be installed on board the three new German Federal Police ships of the „Potsdam“ class.

Together with DLR, the police launched a second test phase. The project partners in „MaRPAS 2“ want to improve maritime surveillance with drones of the weighing up to 5 kilograms by 2021. They are to detect „safety-critical situations“ and acquire situation images „highly automatically“.

The DLR Institute of Flight Systems Technology is testing „realistic“ maritime deployment scenarios for „MaRPAS 2“ on land as well. As in other DLR projects, the ’superARTIS‘ unmanned helicopter is being used for this purpose.

Drone for sea rescue

Finally, the Federal Police, together with the German Shipwrecked Persons Rescue Society, are also conducting research on the „LARUS“ sea rescue drone. It is financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with 2.8 million euros. „LARUS“ is under the direction of the Technical University of Dortmund; Deutsche Telekom is also involved. According to the project description, the „LARUS“ is to be integrated into the civil airspace and thus put on an equal footing with manned aircraft.

In the „LARUS“ project, the Federal Police is conducting research with two universities, a drone company and Deutsche Telekom (all rights reserved BMBF).

The two prototypes of a company from Bremen have a span of almost four meters. They can carry a payload of around 5 kilograms and stay in the air for three hours. The drone is supposed to ascend when an emergency call is received and then independently contact the casualty and transmit exact position information to the rescue units. The position of the wrecked ship is indicated by the „LARUS“ with a laser marker. In this way the vessel can be found even in poor visibility conditions or with night vision devices.

The tests for „LARUS“ will be carried out from Pütnitz and Peenemünde airfields, possibly the EMSA drones will also take off and land there.

Image: A Portuguese „Ogassa“ is one of the four drones flown by EMSA to measure emissions (all rights reserved Portugese Delegation to the NATO).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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