Drones to measure sulphur content of ships in the Baltic Sea

EMSA, together with BSH, is conducting a large-scale emissions monitoring campaign using drones to measure suplhur content. 

Portugal-based European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), together with Germany’s Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH), is conducting a large-scale emissions monitoring campaign using drones to measure sulphur content, scheduled to begin later this month. 


Over a three-month period, they will use specially-equipped drones to measure the sulphur content in the exhaust plumes of ships. Specifically, those transiting the Baltic Sea in order to be able to detect violations of the applicable limits. 

At the same time, the drone will proceed with image data collection for hydrographic surveying purposes. 

The remotely piloted aircraft will take off from the German Armed Forces’ Staberhuk site on the east coast of Fehmarn. Thus, fly over selected ships operating in the Fehmarn Belt and the Kadetrinne/Kadetrenden in order to measure the sulphur content of their exhaust plumes using specific sensors. 

In this way, it will be possible to infer the sulphur content of the ship’s fuel. Note that, it must not exceed a level of 0.10% in the Baltic Sea Emission Control Area (SECA). 

The measurement results are available in real-time to responsible authorities in all European ports via THETIS-EU, the Port State Control information system operated by EMSA.

Therefore, ships can be specifically selected for inspection at their next port of call and samples of the fuel can be taken. In case of proof of strict sulphur limits violation, those responsible face heavy penalties. 

In addition to ship exhaust gas measurements, the drone is also acquiring multispectral aerial imagery. For shallow waters, bathymetric values are extractable from images. Furthermore, imagery allows for three-dimensional mapping of the shore zone.

The drone survey campaign will investigate whether aerial imagery can provide complementary information for the German hydrographic surveying service. 


Norwegian company Nordic Unmanned will operate the drone flights on behalf of EMSA. Meantime, the Danish company Explicit ApS will supply the sensor technology and analysis capabilities for the emission measurements.

Source: EMSA

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