maritime drone in the sunset
maritime drone

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU) activities are a major economic loss for many countries unable to protect their maritime area. Furthermore, they have a strong impact on the sustainability of marine resources. But how to protect millions of kilometers without dozens of patrol boat? It appears that using maritime drone is one of the best opportunities.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing activities

Fishes are one of the major natural resources for food in a world of growing population. The appetence from Asian countries for sea-food developed illegal fishing activities in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) belonging to countries which don’t have the capacity to control their area. According to the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), IUU fishing activities represent 11 to 26 million tons of fish per year and loss of US$ 10 to 23 billion. Despite a binding FAO Agreement, these illegal activities remain a challenge for many countries.

Use of maritime drones against IUU

Using drone is a flexible solution to fight illegal fishing activities. Drones can be deployed from different location: shore, RHIBS, patrol boat, ships or airport. Depending on models, their autonomy and sensors (such as high resolution cameras) offer a wide range of opportunities for a quite affordable price and for limited human resources. Drones can stay for hours at sea, covering a long range of EEZ or Territorial Waters. They can monitor, record and follow IUU fishing activities to enable local authorities to catch and prosecute illegal fishers.

Several countries have already understood the opportunity. In march 2021, the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) announced the acquisition of two drones to conduct fisheries surveillance near shore. Air Force pilots were trained to operate drones, involving cooperation between Seychelles Coast Guard and Seychelles Air Force. The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is another user since 2018.This agency, in charge to develop a safe and sustainable European Union maritime sector, extended its contract with the French company CLS and the Portuguese company Tekever for the supply of drones capable to cover 1 300 kilometers with an autonomy of 12 hours.

Different types of drones

Drone is a huge market estimated to 29 million of units by the end of 2021. However, four different types can be identified: multi-rotor, fixed-wing, single rotor helicopter and fixed wing hybrid.

The most common (and the cheapest) is the multi-rotor, a small drone with a compact body. Multiple propellers allow vertically take-off and precise control but consume a lot of power. Autonomy remains limited.

Fixed wing look like conventional planes. They can operate on long range but required most of the time pilot ability. Some are equipped with solar panels which allow them to remain longer in mission by providing power.

Single-rotor helicopter is basically an unmanned helicopter. With a decent autonomy and a vertical take-off, they are the most complex and expensive solution.

Finally, fix-wing hybrid model is the newest type of drone, a mix between multi-rotor (used for vertical take-off) and fixed wing (used while flying). It seems to be the best model to suit with the environment of maritime operation.

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