The ATLAS 4 sniffing drone, Source: French State Secretariat of the Sea

A drone in Marseille will sniff out ships’ sulfur emissions

A drone in Marseille will sniff out ships’ sulfur emissions

The vessels have been regularly blamed for raising the city’s air pollution levels

A “sniffing” drone will debut operations in the ports of Marseille as part of a project that aims to detect and analyze the sulfur content of the exhaust fumes left by ferries and merchant ships. These vessels have been regularly denounced as contributing to air pollution in the southern French city by not complying with emissions standards.

This is the first time that the special device has been deployed locally. The experiment will take place until 23 December 2022, under the guidance of the French Secretariat for the Sea. The latter asked the European Maritime Safety Agency to provide assistance with the remotely piloted aircraft surveillance service.

Mediterranean Sea emissions control area

The aircraft is an ATLAS 4 weighing more than 15 kg with vertical take-off, with a range of several miles. It is equipped with various equipment including optical and thermal cameras and sensors for measuring emissions.

The drone positions itself in the plume of ship exhaust gases and analyzes the sulfur content using electrochemical sensors. The sulfur content of the fuel used, together with the video recordings, and the flight path are transferred in near real-time to the EMSA's remotely piloted aircraft data centre. 

The control of harmful emissions is expanding from urban areas into maritime traffic. The drone will measure sulfur emissions from ships to verify compliance with the regulations governing the sulfur content of marine fuels. These rules provide that the sulfur level must be less than 0.1% at quay and 0.5% during navigation. 

These requirements will be reinforced in the Mediterranean in 2025 with the entry into force of the "SECA MED" emission control area. The creation of this zone will lead to the obligation for all ships to use fuel whose sulfur content does not exceed 0.1% by mass. In other words, a fuel that is 5 times less polluting than the international standard in non-SECA zones.



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