The “sulphur sniffing” drone the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) wanted to purchase will not be available for some time to come. The drone was to be used to monitor ships’ sulphur emissions at sea.

From the ILT’s recently published annual report it follows that the investigation into the control of sulphur emissions from seagoing vessels by drone has been halted. The project was carried out together with an aircraft manufacturer, but the company in question has indicated that it ‘faces obstacles’. The nature of the obstacles encountered remains unclear. A Coastguard aircraft and a “sniffing post” at the entrance to the port of Rotterdam are now being used for these checks.

A spokesman of the service reported last year that ILT, which is part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, was planning to purchase the futuristic Skeldar V-200 from the Swiss company UMS Skeldar. This is an approximately four-metre-long vtol (vertical take-off and landing) drone, which can remain in the air for about six hours and has a range of about a hundred kilometres. A number of navies, including the German ones, already have the aircraft in use.

Different measurement values

The annual report also shows that the sniffer pole and the aircraft yield different measurement values. The sulphur content in the exhaust fumes of ships entering Rotterdam appears to be significantly lower than that of ships that are remotely monitored at sea. The service does not yet know why this is the case and is investigating the matter.

Last year, ILT checked some 800 ships, which is in line with the European standard. Of these, at least forty per cent must be physically inspected by taking and analysing samples of the fuel on board. In its annual report, the service says it detects and deals with offenders, but does not give any figures. According to the ILT, remote inspections enforce better compliance with the rules, because shipowners realise that their ships are already being monitored in the North Sea and on entry into ports.

Ships in the North Sea are only allowed to burn fuel with a maximum of 0.1 per cent sulphur, or ultra low sulphur fuel oil. Moreover, they are not allowed to carry fuel with more than 0.5 per cent sulphur (vlsfo) on board, because its use has been banned worldwide since the beginning of this year.

This article first appeared in Dutch on Nieuwsblad Transport, another publication of SWZ|Maritime’s publishing partner Promedia.