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Maritime enters the drone age

Are drones the answer to a greener industry?

Developments in drone technology are advancing at great speed. Autonomous, unmanned vehicles can assist inspections, monitoring, and overall operation of a ship with minimal resources used. But what is the main driving force behind the rise of drones?

No longer a technology of the future, drone deployment can already be seen from companies like Maersk, who have been investing in drones as a cost-effective way to deliver goods to ships offshore. Stirring up the maritime industry, drones are easily adapted to a range of tasks and will likely enter many areas of operation.

The UK Royal Navy is currently trialing drones to assist ship maintenance. A camera drone allows for easy inspection and diagnostics without complicated set ups—even while a ship is at sea. Assessment of hard-to-reach places usually carried out by crew members becomes faster with drone use, as well as safer. For instance, flare tips on floating production facilities that stand up to 70m high usually require expensive equipment and might even need to be shut down for safe crew access. Drone inspections reduce risks to personnel, improving safety standards and keeping costs low.

“Drones reduce risks to personnel, improving safety and keeping costs low.”

Putting drones to green use

The use of drones has exciting prospects with regard to improving environmental impact. One green use for drones that has already come to fruition is the use of “sniffer” drones. With the 2020 MARPOL Annex VI on the horizon, shipping companies need to continually monitor emissions to ensure they are complying with new sulfur oxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) limits. However, this process can be resource heavy and time consuming. Unmanned aerial vehicles automate emission monitoring, simplifying the processes needed to ensure green standards.

“Sniffer drones can analyze emissions and alert crew to any changes.”

Sniffer drones are able to analyze emissions and alert crew to any changes in levels of SOx and NOx. In this way, drones ensure operation in accordance with environmental regulations. The Danish Explicit sniffer drone has even gained recognition from the Ocean Exchange, confirming its success as an eco-efficient technology.

Environmental companies are also looking to use drones to their advantage. Deploying them in some areas will help to quickly detect ecological threats and accelerate response times, as well as increasing the chance of identifying culprits. In addition to using sniffer drones to monitor ships from above, technology is advancing in underwater autonomous vehicles to detect oil spills. Installing drones with technologies such as infrared and thermal imaging to predict oil movements after a spill could also allow for much more thorough clean up.

Solutions to keep you in the clear 

International governments are recognizing the benefits of drone use in policing the maritime industry. Although drones are not yet commonplace, authorities will soon be able to use them to patrol oceans faster and with greater accuracy. Ship owners need to ensure they are complying with environmental regulations to avoid penalties, no matter the waters they sail in.

One solution for this is to employ a continual emission monitoring system (CEMS). A comprehensive CEMS, such as SKF BlueMon, ensures adequate eco-efficiency by tracking emission levels.  It can also alert crew members to regulation changes based on a ship’s location and data from multiple sources. Having a monitoring system on board allows you to easily track your ship’s practices, as well as store data as evidence of compliance to emissions and oil discharge standards.

A continuous monitoring system guarantees effective cooperation with authorities, making sure shipowners avoid costly and time-consuming disputes. This is likely to become increasingly important as policing of the maritime industry intensifies with drone use.