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EMSA 1: Interview with Leendert Bal, Head of Operations Department of the European Maritime Safety Agency

In this issue of EOMAG, EARSC has an opportunity to feature an interview with Mr. Leendert Bal, Head of Operations Department of the European Maritime Safety Agency to talk about some aspects of Maritime Safety and Maritime Surveillance and links with satellite based services


Please tell us about EMSA and the relation with satellite services

Maritime safety issues were brought sharply into focus with the sinking of the oil tanker Erika off the coast of France in 1999, followed by the sinking of the Prestige off Spain in 2002. These disasters led to the decision to set up a new EU body which could act as the technical and operational arm of European Union decision makers. With this in mind EMSA, one of the EU’s decentralised regulatory Agencies, was established in 2003. The Agency is required to provide technical support and advice to the European Commission and Member States in certain key maritime safety areas and to monitor the ways in which different Member States and organizations are implementing EU legislation. EMSA has operational tasks in the field of satellite monitoring and detection of illegal discharges of oil at sea, oil pollution response, and in the field of vessel traffic monitoring with Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) tools. These maritime support services permits EU Member States to share live information on incidents and ship movements off each country’s coast. Overall, EMSA can be seen as a maritime safety, maritime security and protection of the marine environment agency.

What is the EMSA’s role in monitoring system for marine oil spill detection and surveillance in European waters?

The majority of oil spills occur when tankers and other vessels clean out their oil tanks at sea. This practice is illegal, but is very difficult to detect and subsequently prosecute. As a support service for Member States in the fight against pollution, in 2007 EMSA set up CleanSeaNet (CSN), a satellite service for oil spill detection. The system provides pollution alerts and analysed Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images to pollution control authorities of Member States within 30 minutes of the satellite overpass. In a nut-shell CleanSeaNet provides the initial detection and tracking of possible discharges from ships using satellite imagery which is then backed up with on-the-spot surveillance by Member States with patrol vessels and aircraft.

(The illustrations and side article provide more information on CleanSeaNet)

How can EMSA assist in satellite monitoring and surveillance during an accidental oil spill?

The Agency can place emergency orders for fast delivery of satellite radar imagery for the affected area and provide pollution emergency reports to the relevant authorities at Member States. In case of major accidental spills the International Charter “Space and Major Disasters may be activated. EMSA acts as a Project Manager of the Charter in case of a major spill in European waters and coordinates the delivery and analysis of radar and optical satellite images made available through the Charter to monitor the evolution of the spill.

What is the added value of a pan-European operational system for marine oil slick detection and surveillance?

EMSA would like to enable greater sharing of data and information, as well as expertise between Coastal States in relation to marine oil slick detection and surveillance. It has been demonstrated that satellite services operated at a regional level allow co-ordination of surveillance resources and an improvement in cost efficiency for aerial and vessel surveillance. Certainly the purchase of a large volume of imagery and services creates a cost reduction due to economies of scale.

Is any other type of data from satellites used in CleanSeaNet?

CleanSeaNet provides wind and wave swell information derived directly from the SAR data and from meteorological sources. In the future, the Agency will bring in other types of data derived from Earth Observation satellites including sea surface temperature maps, and maps of chlorophyll a distribution derived from satellites to support image analysis and interpretation.

Could you describe the vessel traffic services offered by EMSA and how this data is linked to CleanSeaNet?

With so many vessels loading and unloading in European ports, information about cargo, ship safety records and port destinations is vital. EMSA has developed SafeSeaNet (SSN), which is a pan-European electronic information system which harmonises the way maritime data on ship movements and cargoes is exchanged. The EU has the best covered coastline with AIS receiving stations picking up all signals from passing ships.
Data from these systems are being integrated at EMSA to provide Member States and the Commission with a comprehensive image of vessel traffic in the EU. The goal is to distribute to participating countries, the full real-time AIS information picture, enhanced with selected data stored in the SSN system (e.g. notifications on hazardous goods, alert incidents posing threats to safety of navigations and/ or the environment) and LRIT information.
Vessel traffic information will very shortly be available in CleanSeaNet. Integrating vessel track positions with CleanSeaNet satellite radar images assists in the identification and eventual prosecution of the polluting vessel responsible for the spill. Within CleanSeaNet we have already successfully combined satellite SAR with vessel information to positively identify ships responsible for causing pollution.
In fact we plan to enhance CleanSeaNet further by offering Synthetic Aperture Radar automatic vessel detection information layer to identify the presence of vessels which are not transmitting their position by AIS or LRIT.


Coming to the interoperability issues how do you compare EMSA satellite based products with others?

The satellite services team is very aware of the importance of standards and interoperability issues for EO data. CleanSeaNet is a formally recognised GMES service and we aim to follow recommendations for appropriate common standards and protocols within the framework of GMES, the INSPIRE (Infrastructure for SPatail InfoRmation in Europe) Directive and GEOSS (Global Earth Observation System of Systems).
In the near future we are moving towards implementation of OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) compliant web services for the CleanSeaNet Data Centre. The standards applied to the CSN DC components shall be compliant to the GMES/INSPIRE recommendations on architecture; catalogues/metadata; sensor planning; ordering; web mapping services, data access and dissemination amongst others.


What type of dialogue mechanism could take place with the EO service industry?

We have an open dialogue with industry. We receive industry at EMSA to be informed about innovations and staff attend relevant conferences and big exhibitions.

In your opinion, what milestones in last two decades have made an impact in the growth of EO downstream maritime services products?

Certainly R&D activities and pre-operational demonstration projects, for example MarCoast from European Space Agency, and Oceanides from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), as well as developments through the EU Framework Programmes, have been valuable for improving reliability and strengthening the downstream service chain. Of significant importance for the successful establishment of CleanSeaNet has been the availability and reliability of Near Real Time SAR satellite data. Delivery of satellite image products that have been ordered must be delivered 95% of the time, and within a strict time limit. For services which impact operational decision making, fast and reliable delivery of images and derived information is indispensible.

Are there other satellite based service technologies which may have an impact on the maritime sector?

One area EMSA is closely following is the development of satellite based AIS. This technology, which is in demonstration phase, could strengthen the portfolio of vessel information services at the Agency. Satellites can collect the positions of vessels which are far off-shore. This position information is technically difficult to capture using sea or ground based systems. It is in this respect that space-based AIS technology could play an increasingly important role in providing AIS data to the maritime sector, which in turn may be used for various purposes including maritime surveillance.


At the end of the interview, here is the opportunity for your final thoughts on the future, what do you see as the task ahead?

Following the European Commission’s Blue Book for an Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union, and the strategic goals and recommendations for the EU’s maritime transport policy until 2018 the Agency will continue initiatives for sharing ship related information. EMSA’s guiding principle for the medium term is to focus on those actions that can be undertaken more efficiently at EU level than national level. Certainly the strengthening of maritime surveillance services for Member States and for other Agency bodies at EU level is a medium term goal for the Agency.

Would you like to give some message to the entrepreneurs interested in helping EMSA with its goals?

Data fusion and increased availability of integrated, information rich, products for maritime surveillance is of interest to the Agency. Continuing improvement of Near Real Time Performance for SAR processing would be advantageous. Industry innovation and flexibility in responding to the needs of EMSA for further development of maritime surveillance services is appreciated.

Thank you for your time, and for sharing your thoughts and comments with the EOmag readers.

EMSA 1. Interview with Leendert Bal. Head of Operations Depart. of EMSA.pdf