Spy satellites are combing the seas for polluting ships

We can all hope for cleaner seas after the Maritime & Coastguard Agency unveiled the first results of an international surveillance programme using satellites currently underway in the North Sea.

The trial involves several member states of the European Union including Germany, Netherlands and the UK. The aim of the project is to exploit the use of new satellite technology to identify marine pollution originating from shipping. Another key aim is to provide a deterrent to ship owners and operators.

The chain of events now in place is:

? the satellite passes over the targeted sea area and captures the data.

? The Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) ground station acquires and processes the data into images

? An expert analyses the image and produces a ship detection and oil detection report

? A contact is made with Yarmouth Coastguard with the report

? The report and images are posted on a website

? MCA counter pollution officers contacted by Yarmouth Coastguard

? Counter Pollution and Salvage Officer alerts aerial surveillance aircraft and with Yarmouth Coastguard discusses options with Netherlands and German Coordination Centers.

? Fixed wing remote sensing aerial surveillance aircraft scrambled as required from any of the Member States

Toby Stone, Head of Counter Pollution and Response:

“Satellite trials linked to oil spill detection are not new. However, this latest demonstration project is very much on an operational footing. The use of satellites for such services is a maturing piece of technology. Images are imported into Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to further assist ourselves and our European partners. Another new development is the capability for images to help identify the position and number of ships and / or offshore installations.

“The Southern North Sea is just one of many targeted areas in the UK Pollution Control Zone. In conjunction with the earth observation data, fixed wing remote sensing aerial surveillance aircraft are on call in the areas to validate the satellite passes.

” This information can then be compared with other surveillance tools for example the radar information from the Channel Navigation Information Service (CNIS) based at Dover Coastguard Station, and the Automatic Identification Systems currently being installed on ships and monitored by National Authorities.

“Future projects will be focusing on the integration of Earth Observation systems and terrestrial systems.