Space-Eye: Satellite surveillance from underneath

High-resolution images from earth observation could help with non-governmental sea rescues in the Mediterranean. However, these have to be purchased from commercial providers, because openly accessible images from EU satellites are of low quality. An initiative now wants to enrich this data with other sources and evaluate it with algorithms.

The EU border agency Frontex uses satellites to stop unwanted migration to Europe. As part of the EUROSUR surveillance system, Frontex has set up various services to automatically detect ships and boats carrying refugees with the help of aircraft, drones and also satellites. Frontex then informs the relevant coast guards of the sighting; North African authorities then return the boat occupants to countries such as Libya or Tunisia. The satellite data comes from the Sentinels of the EU’s „Copernicus“ earth observation programme; Frontex also buys higher-resolution images from private providers. In addition to Frontex, the EU’s maritime safety agency EMSA also maintains a satellite-based monitoring system, „CleanSeaNet“.

The German association Space-Eye is now also experimenting with the use of satellite data. The information is intended to help rescue organisations take on board people in distress at sea and bring them to a safe harbour. The association’s satellite working group consists of a dozen scientists and students. For the interview, i spoke with development engineer Elli Wittmann, Steffen Merseburg and Jonathan. „Space-Eye: Satellite surveillance from underneath“ weiterlesen

German project: Drones for non-governmental maritime rescue

Searchwing has developed a waterproof drone that can be hand-launched from a ship. In a two-hour mission, the aircraft flies up to 120 kilometres. For real-time transmission, members are working on a new model.

In the Mediterranean, EU agencies use drones to track and stop refugees on their way to Europe. Since May this year, Frontex has stationed an Israeli „Heron 1“ on Malta, soon to be followed by an even larger drone. Individual member states are also increasingly relying on autonomous systems for their coast guards. They are supported in this by EMSA, the Maritime Safety Agency.

For some years now, non-governmental organisations have also been experimenting with unmanned aerial vehicles. Their objective is to rescue people on the high seas and then disembark them in a state that will not persecute or mistreat them. One of the groups is Searchwing. In October, the activists completed a test on the ship „Sea-Watch 4“. I spoke to Philipp Borgers about this. „German project: Drones for non-governmental maritime rescue“ weiterlesen

New unmanned capabilities: When will the EU use drones for practical sea rescue?

Two leading drone manufacturers report readiness to equip their aircraft with life rafts. These can be dropped with pinpoint accuracy over a maritime emergency. But perhaps this would also encourage violations of the Geneva Refugee Convention.

The Portuguese company Tekever can now equip its drone „AR5“ with life rafts for eight people. The new capability has already been tested in several trials over the Atlantic, the manufacturer now shows this in a video.

With the help of on-board computers, the system calculates the optimal drop point. The rescue device is to be placed at a sufficient distance from the emergency at sea so that those affected are not put at additional risk. „New unmanned capabilities: When will the EU use drones for practical sea rescue?“ weiterlesen

Frontex pays another €84 million for aerial surveillance

The border agency spends one-sixth of its budget on flights at the EU’s external borders. With the service, the Frontex director makes himself independent of the governments of the member states. A contract for helicopter operations does not materialise for the time being. In the meantime, however, Libya has ordered helicopters from Airbus.

Frontex has awarded two new contracts for aerial maritime surveillance. These are two of the original four tenders for medium-range and long-range flights. According to the European procurement portal, the contracts worth €53.6 million and €30.9 million were awarded to five charter companies from the Netherlands, the UK and Austria. All beneficiaries had previously provided flight services for Frontex. Several companies also fly for coastguards in other European countries, such as the Netherlands and the UK.

Frontex currently spends one-sixth of its budget this year on its „Aerial Surveillance Service“ (FASS). The EU border agency began setting it up in 2013. Initially, it was a pilot project with the British company Diamond Executive Aviation (DEA), which was followed by service contracts with a total of nine companies from 2017. It was based on the renewed Frontex Regulation of 2016, according to which the agency can procure, lease or rent its own equipment. This makes Frontex independent of the Member States, from which the agency usually has to request personnel and equipment for “ Joint Operations“. „Frontex pays another €84 million for aerial surveillance“ weiterlesen

Border drones (Part 1): Unmanned surveillance of the EU’s external borders by Frontex

Since 2009, the EU Border Agency Frontex has been hosting training events on drones and inviting manufacturers to regular demonstrations. There, border police from Schengen member states were presented market-available unmanned systems for the surveillance of land and maritime borders. The basis for this is the first Frontex Regulation, adopted in 2004, which contains the mandate to „follow up on the development of research relevant for the control and surveillance of external borders“. The agency’s remit therefore includes continuous exchange with „cross-sectorial partners“ in order to „transform operational requirements into innovative operational solutions“.

In the case of the introduction of these technologies, Frontex is to coordinate with European standardisation institutes as appropriate. In 2010, small drones were the initial focus in Finland. A year later, high-flying MALE-class aircraft were unveiled in the Greek port city of Aktio. Prior to this, Frontex had issued a call for the event to explore the integration of drones into the EU border surveillance system EUROSUR. Subsequently, aircraft such as the Israeli „Heron 1“, the American „Predator“, the French „Patroller“ as well as the „Euro Hawk“ (which at the time was in the procurement phase for the German Armed Forces as a spy drone) were presented in lectures. Some drones were demonstrated live; in the case of the Spanish offshoot of the French arms company Thales, the latter touted the suitability of its „Fulmar“ against irregular migration.

In its 2012 work programme, Frontex announced its intention to „identify more cost-efficient and operational effective solutions for aerial border surveillance in particular Unmanned Aircraft Systems“. Under the name „All Eyes“, the agency then wanted to identify cheap and effective solutions, including also so-called Optional Piloted Aerial Vehicles (OPV). Within nine months, an initial study on this was to be carried out, followed by „practical field tests and an evaluation“. The budget was 450,000 euros. „Border drones (Part 1): Unmanned surveillance of the EU’s external borders by Frontex“ weiterlesen

First test in Malta: Frontex drones approaching

A reconnaissance drone is to track down boats carrying refugees in the central Mediterranean Sea in the future, the main contractor is the Airbus Group. The range of the deployed „Heron 1“ also enables flights off the coasts of North Africa.

Frontex is apparently stationing its new drones in Malta. As the Times of Malta reports, the EU border agency carried out a first test flight there on Friday. The newspaper illustrates the report with photos of a „Heron 1“ on the runway of the international airport in Malta.

Frontex had tendered a contract for the procurement of large drones in 2019. The legal framework was the Frontex Regulation, renewed in 2016, which allows the agency to acquire or lease its own technical equipment, following a decision by the executive director. The vehicles, vessels, aircraft or surveillance equipment can then be used for joint operations, pilot projects or rapid interventions for border security purposes, according to Article 38. „First test in Malta: Frontex drones approaching“ weiterlesen

Unmanned surveillance for Fortress Europe

The agencies EMSA and Frontex have spent more than €300 million on drone services since 2016. The Mediterranean in particular is becoming a testing track for further projects.

According to the study „Eurodrones Inc.“ presented by Ben Hayes, Chris Jones and Eric Töpfer for Statewatch seven years ago, the European Commission had already spent over €315 million at that time to investigate the use of drones for border surveillance. These efforts focused on capabilities of member states and their national contact centres for EUROSUR. The border surveillance system, managed by Frontex in Warsaw, became operational in 2014 – initially only in some EU Member States.

The Statewatch study also documented in detail the investments made by the Defence Agency (EDA) in European drone research up to 2014. More than €190 million in funding for drones on land, at sea and in the air has flowed since the EU military agency was founded. 39 projects researched technologies or standards to make the unmanned systems usable for civilian and military purposes. „Unmanned surveillance for Fortress Europe“ weiterlesen

Artificial intelligence: Frontex improves its maritime surveillance

Frontex wants to use a new platform to automatically detect and assess „risks“ on the seas of the European Union. Suspected irregular activities are to be displayed in a constantly updated „threat map“ with the help of self-learning software.

The EU border agency has renewed a contract with Israeli company Windward for a „maritime analytics“ platform. It will put the application into regular operation. Frontex had initially procured a licence for around 800,000 Euros. For now 2.6 million Euros, the agency will receive access for four workstations. The contract can be extended three times for one year at a time.

Windward specialises in the digital aggregation and assessment of vessel tracking and maritime surveillance data. Investors in the company, which was founded in 2011, include former US CIA director David Petraeus and former CEO’s of Thomson Reuters and British Petroleum. The former chief of staff of the Israeli military, Gabi Ashkenazi, is considered one of the advisors. „Artificial intelligence: Frontex improves its maritime surveillance“ weiterlesen

Italy and Frontex now monitor the Mediterranean Sea with large drones

Last week, the EU Border Agency decided on the multi-year deployment of large drones in the Mediterranean, now Italy is following suit. The contractors have already carried out tests for Frontex over the past two years.

The Italian Ministry of the Interior is providing €7.2 million for the operation of drones in the central Mediterranean. The police and the financial police, who is also responsible for border security, will use the unmanned aerial vehicles by day and night against irregular migration from countries such as Libya and Tunisia. The EU Commission is funding 50% of the procurement with money from the Internal Security Fund.

The contract was apparently awarded to the Italian arms company Leonardo. The firm is to provide up to 1,800 flight hours for an initial year. The drones will be stationed at the Sicilian airports of Trapani, Lampedusa or Ragusa. The Ministry of the Interior demands a deployment radius of about 550 kilometres. The contract has an initial term of one year and can be extended twice. „Italy and Frontex now monitor the Mediterranean Sea with large drones“ weiterlesen

Shipowners are not allowed to bring refugees back to Libya

The disembarkation of rescued refugees in Libya is punishable under German law, including for merchant ships. This is documented by a Bundestag assessment. However, the Foreign Office and the public prosecutors are not interested in pursuing captains and shipowners

The central Mediterranean is probably one of the best monitored sea areas in the world. The border agency Frontex runs the border police operation „Themis“ there, the External Action Service is responsible for the military operation „EUNAVFOR MED“. In addition to large and small aircraft and ships, submarines, drones and satellite surveillance are used. In addition, NATO is also stationed in the Mediterranean with its „Sea Guardian“ mission an its „Standing NATO Maritime Group“. „Shipowners are not allowed to bring refugees back to Libya“ weiterlesen