Drones launched from Saaremaa monitor pollution and ships in Baltic Sea

A PPA drone in Saaremaa
A PPA drone in Saaremaa Source: Margus Muld/ERR

For the last two years, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) has been using drones to monitor ships and pollution in the Baltic Sea in a project supported with funding from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). In the latest round of flights, camera-equipped drones, which will be launched from Saaremaa, are set to conduct surveillance in Estonian airspace over the Baltic up until the end of October.

The high-spec drones being used to conduct surveillance flights in Estonian airspace are produced by Norwegian manufacturer Nordic Unmanned. A representative of the company, which provides its services to the PPA, confirmed that the operation ran smoothly throughout the summer, with new flights taking place over the Baltic Sea every day.

"The system has returned safely every time and there have been no incidents in Estonian airspace. The drone sends images directly to the control center and also to the maritime surveillance center," said Spencer Anderson, drone operator at Nordic Unmanned.

The Norwegian company did not allow ERR to make video recordings of the monitors used to conduct their surveillance, but still photographs were permitted.

Still shots taken from over a kilometer over the Baltic Sea by one of the drones, show that if there were people on the deck of a ship for example, it would just about be possible to make out their faces.

"This drone is capable of flying up to 75 nautical miles (138.9 kilometers). Typically, a mission lasts 9 hours. It can stay airborne for up to 12 hours," explained Anderson.

Siim Lindmaa, an unmanned aircraft development expert at the PPA, said that for the last two years the area of operation has really been the sea west of the main Estonian islands. "In this same area of sea, we have the main shipping lane, where we can get an overview (of the situation). We're not looking for anything in particular, we're raising awareness of the situation, checking to see if all the maritime safety rules are being followed. And if there should be some kind of incident or accident at sea, like the one we had in Latvian waters (A small private plane crashed into the Baltic Sea off the coast of Ventspils in early September – ed.), then this aircraft can be used to support (the response to) that incident," Lindmaa said.

As the drone flights are funded by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSAD), the PPA also sees this as a way to make a significant financial savings whilst also ensuring maritime safety. At the same time, they make no secret of the fact that they are also sharing the aerial pictures with other agencies.

"If our partners, be it the Defense Forces or the environment agency, who also operate in maritime areas, have any informational needs, we are happy to cooperate," said Lindmaa.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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