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EU drone operations: Israeli military firm Elbit amongst maritime agency's subcontractors
30.9.19

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Seven EU member states have been provided with drone "services" by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) since 2018, and EMSA has also "supported the [European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex] in 2018 and 2019 with surveillance along the Portuguese coast."

The information on EU drone was provided by the European Commission following a written question from the GUE/NGL MEP Özlem Demirel.

The reply states that EMSA:

"currently has eight contracts in place for different RPAS with varying capabilities, including a contract with the Portuguese firm CEiiA. The Israeli company ELBIT is a subcontractor of CEiiA, providing the Hermes 900 RPAS. EMSA does not purchase any RPAS, but concludes contracts with the operating companies."

The European Maritime Safety Agency plays a leading role in a tri-agency agreement with Frontex and the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA).

The initiative began in mid-2016, as Statewatch reported at the time, when the EMSA made available more than €67 million for contracts with drone operators.

More recently, the use of drones by Frontex was the subject of an article in The Guardian which reported that:

"Surveillance drones operated by Frontex, or by agencies or service providers with which Frontex co-operates, appear to be flying over waters off Libya where not a single rescue has been carried out by the main EU naval mission since last August, in what is the deadliest stretch of water in the world.

After publication, the Frontex press office said that “currently Frontex is not using any drones” and not receiving any information from drones."

The information provided by the European Commission suggests otherwise. Whatever the case, it is clear that further operations are on the way: "EMSA, in close cooperation with EFCA and EBCGA, has invited Member States to indicate their interest in new operations for 2020-2021," says the response.

Question and answer

Question for written answer E-002454-19 to the Commission

Özlem Demirel (GUE/NGL)

Subject: Use of drones by EU agencies

EU border and coast guard agencies operate a variety of drones to carry out surveillance in the Mediterranean: Frontex uses Heron and Falco unmanned aerial vehicles from the Israeli arms concern IAI and Leonardo in Italy respectively; the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) operates the Hermes 900 by Elbit Systems. At the Paris Air Show, that Israeli company announced that it was offering EU Member States a drone patrol service under a contract between EMSA and the Portuguese firm CEiiA.

Which EU agencies are currently using drones on a trial basis or for research and testing purposes, and what drones are in the meantime being operated by them on a regular basis?

Are EU agencies planning to purchase further drones, or have they decided to do so, and when are those drones intended to become operational?

Which EU Member States are making use of the EMSA drone patrol service, and which governments have signalled an interest in doing so?

Answer given by Ms Bulc on behalf of the European Commission

As part of Union cooperation on coast guard functions, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCGA) have established common maritime information and surveillance services including the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). This provides additional multipurpose maritime surveillance capacity to national authorities for example in monitoring of safety of navigation, detection of vessels in distress, marine pollution, measurement of ship emissions, identification and tracking of vessels involved in illegal activities at sea, etc.

EMSA, in agreement with EFCA and EBCGA took the lead in RPAS services and currently has eight contracts in place for different RPAS with varying capabilities, including a contract with the Portuguese firm CEiiA. The Israeli company ELBIT is a subcontractor of CEiiA, providing the Hermes 900 RPAS. EMSA does not purchase any RPAS, but concludes contracts with the operating companies.

In 2018 and 2019, EMSA has provided RPAS services for an average of three months each to Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Greece, Croatia, Italy and Iceland with different types of RPAS and operational goals. Additionally, EMSA has supported the EBCGA in 2018 and 2019 with surveillance along the Portuguese coast.

EMSA, in close cooperation with EFCA and EBCGA, has invited Member States to indicate their interest in new operations for 2020-2021. As regards safety of operations, EMSA cooperates with the European Aviation Safety Authority.

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