International drone patrol to help monitor Estonia's maritime area

  • 2021-04-08
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – The Estonian Police and Border Guard Board will be using a Schiebel CAMCOPTER S-100 unmanned aerial vehicle of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to guard the Estonian maritime border, perform search and rescue task and monitor the sea for pollution in April and in May.

Marge Kohtla, head of the maritime security group at the Police and Border Guard Board, said that the EMSA drone offers an excellent opportunity for monitoring the maritime area, serving as an addition to the existing maritime surveillance system, vessels of the Police and Border Guard Board, smaller water craft, and aircraft.

"Monitoring from the air is an important part of creating security at sea, and it provides us and our cooperation partners with valuable information about developments at sea. We will use the EMSA drone to complement the maritime situation picture, detect potential violations and cross-border crimes, identify maritime pollution and potential polluters, and search for people in distress," Kohtla said.  

The real-time image provided by the drone will be relayed to the maritime surveillance center and vessels of the Police and Border Guard Board performing patrol duties.

"For instance, the maritime surveillance center will be able to direct an additional patrol to some region or dispatch a water craft of the Police and Border Guard Board to a potential violator detected with the help of the drone," the official said, adding that in search and rescue operations the drone will play a life-saving role by enabling to establish the precise location of the person in distress for the prompt dispatch of a rescue team with a water craft or a helicopter. 

The drone will be in Estonia for two months, in April and in May, and it will be based on the island of Hiiumaa.  

During the period when the drone was at the disposal of the border guard service of Finland last summer, a direct connection with Estonia was established on three occasions. Also then staff at the maritime surveillance center of the Police and Border Guard Board and crews of patrol ships received real-time video image offering an overview of developments in the Gulf of Finland more broadly.

"Our cooperation was very seamless, and now, when the drone is in Estonia, we are planning to continue such cooperation with nearby countries," Kohtla said, adding that maritime surveillance information is to be shared with colleagues in Finland, Latvia and Sweden.

"This is a good example of us being able, in collaboration with the border guard authorities of the neighboring countries, to ensure maritime security and border security in our country and also in the nearby region in a smarter fashion still. According to current information, the unmanned aerial vehicle will be based in Finland after Estonia, and we plan to continue our cooperation then. Hence, maritime surveillance information from the drone will be available to us during several months," Kohtla added.

European Union member states, member states of the European Free Trade Association and institutions of the EU can apply to EMSA to provide different unmanned platforms to help perform coast guard functions. The drones can be used in the maritime area bordering on the EU and the European Free Trade Association and related costs are covered by EMSA. Schiebel, a contractual partner of EMSA, has deployed the drone in Estonia with a team of operators.

The possibility to use EMSA drones has been available to EU member states since 2017.