€67 million for maritime surveillance drones


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The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) wants drones, and lots of them. The agency has made more €67 million available for unmanned aircraft that will fulfil "the various maritime surveillance needs in general, including fisheries, illegal immigration, anti drug trafficking, etc." as well as "other public purposes on an emergency basis."

 In documents published at the end of July, EMSA says it is looking for a company or companies to provide three different types of drone to monitor "the different operational domains": medium-size, long-endurance drones; "larger size RPAS services with 'long endurance' and with a comprehensive set of sensor capabilities"; and drones with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) abilities. [1]

The data and imagery gathered by the aircraft will be used by EMSA, the European Fisheries Control Agency, and Frontex, which is soon to become the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG).

As part of the European Commission's 2015 "border package" that introduced the new Regulation transforming Frontex into the EBCG, cooperation between EMSA, Frontex and the European Fisheries Control Agency was strengthened, obliging them to work together to "support national authorities carry out coast guard functions at national and Union level, and where appropriate, at international level." [2]

Amongst the new cooperation tasks are "providing surveillance and communication services based on state-of-the-art technology, including space-based and ground infrastructure and sensors mounted on any kind of platform," hence EMSA's intention to acquire new drone systems.

EMSA and Frontex also cooperate on the basis of a "Service-Level Agreement" (SLA), which governs their work on "border surveillance, interception of vessels suspected of engaging in criminal activities and cross border crime and support for search and rescue at sea." [3]

An EMSA press release issued to announce the signing of the agreement said: "EMSA assists Frontex in providing several Eurosur Fusion Services (EFS), including tracking of vessels suspected to be engaged in criminal activities and people smuggling and monitoring of suspicious activities." [4]

As well as the €67 million tender for drones to be used for "maritime security", EMSA has made up to €10 million available for a company or companies to provide drones for emissions and pollution monitoring, and is offering up to €520,000 for a:

"RPAS [Remotely Piloted Aerial System] exploitation Data Center (RPAS-DC)… The RPAS-DC shall provide the means for users to exploit the data collected during RPAS missions. A scalable service should be foreseen in terms of having a number of simultaneous RPAS deployments and missions and therefore a number of concurrent flights." [5]

EMSA's €67 million security tender closes on 17 October. Perhaps the amount of money available will be more tempting Europe's drone companies than a recent, similar effort by Frontex, which made €2.5 million available for drones to undertake surveillance of the Italian or Greek maritime borders, but failed after no bids were received. [6]

According to a Frontex spokesperson, the agency has not been deterred - it "is planning to launch a similar tender in the future."


[1] EMSA, 'Contracts for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) services in support of the execution of Coast Guard functions' (pdf)
[2] European Parliament legislative resolution of 6 July 2016 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1406/2002 establishing a European Maritime Safety Agency (COM(2015)0667 – C8-0404/2015 – 2015/0313(COD)) (Ordinary legislative procedure: first reading)
[3] EMSA: Frontex: Service Level Agreement (1 May 2016)
[4] EMSA, 'EMSA and Frontex extend cooperation for another three years', 26 May 2016
[5] EMSA, 'Contracts for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) services in the maritime environment' and 'Contracts for provision of RPAS Exploitation Data Center (RPAS-DC) services in support of Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) operations provided by EMSA' (pdfs)
[6] TED, 'Poland-Warsaw: RPAS maritime aerial surveillance services trial'

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