Categories: BusinessPublished On: 21.05.2019459 words2.3 min read

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – Teams of drones are about to start policing the skies of some of the world’s busiest shipping ports. Their target? Environmental rule-breakers.

It might sound – and look – like something out of a Marvel Avengers movie, but for many ports around the world, these so-called sniffer drones are the best way to enforce new regulations aimed at cutting the air pollution caused by ships.

Regulators are bracing for rules that are meant to lower shipping’s emissions of sulfur oxides, pollutants blamed for acid rain and aggravating human health conditions like asthma.

Because the regulations, which start Jan 1, will require most of the world’s ships to burn more expensive fuels, there has been speculation some owners may try to cheat to drive down what is their single biggest cost. And that’s where the drones come in.

In the Netherlands, home to Europe’s largest port, preparations are underway to use a large, unmanned flying vehicle capable of travelling well over 16km from the shore to detect emissions from ships.

The local enforcement authority calls it a “super drone”

In Hong Kong, where rule breakers face large fines and up to six months in prison, similar – albeit smaller – machines are currently being tested for the same purpose. Maritime authorities in Denmark and Norway have also already started using the technology.

The authorities can use drones to effectively filter through the tens of thousands of vessels coming in and out of their ports. Knowing in advance if a ship is burning non-compliant fuel means they can target the right carrier for a manual inspection.

In Hong Kong and Shenzhen – where hundreds of ships are currently randomly selected for spot-checks – the authorities are working with academics on using drones, said Professor Zhi Ning from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The unmanned vehicles will fly into plumes of smoke created by vessels, collecting real-time data that is then used to calculate how much sulfur is in the ship’s fuel. The university is field-testing its technology this month and will send staff on boat trips around Hong Kong, whose name means Fragrant Harbour.


“It takes only two to three minutes for us to finish one scanning of the plume of one ship,” said Prof Ning. “We hope to have this joint effort between Hong Kong and Shenzhen for the Greater Bay area. In the end, the air pollution doesn’t have any boundaries – it just flows around.”

In the Netherlands, where the marine fuel sulfur limit is already set at 0.1 per cent, there are plans for unmanned aircraft to start being used for emissions testing in the second half of this year.

the full article is available on the Straights Times website here