New pilot focuses on shipping pollution

20 Jan 2023 | Dan Benham

In recent years a growing number of incidents have been caused by poor container management on ships that are traveling across rough seas. Close to home for the people of The Netherlands was the spillage from the Panamanian-flagged MSC ZOE in 2019, which lost more than 300 containers and their contents into the sea, soon washing up on beaches across the Wadden Sea world heritage site and causing major environmental pollution. The disaster was found to have been caused by containers that were not properly fastened, known as lashing.

Three years on and the effects of the MSC ZOE disaster can still be seen in the environment. One of the containers contained bags full of tiny plastic pallets, used for producing plastics. These small particles are now found all across the dune landscapes and wetlands around the islands of Terschelling and Vlieland with no realistic way to clean it up. The particles will stay there for decades to come, polluting the natural landscape and impacting on wildlife that accidentally consumes it.

Government collaboration

To avoid further such container incidents, a new pilot was carried out in 2022 by the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) and the Sea Ranger Service, focused on investigating the effectiveness of drones to monitor cargo ships. The aim of the collaboration is to deploy drones from the Sea Ranger Service ship to identify if containers on cargo ships are stowed and lashed properly. The Sea Ranger Service has a strong adaptability and has customised its low emission ships by constructing a bespoke drone launching platform which made the pilot possible. 

The Sea Ranger Service vessel was equipped with a skilled team of Sea Rangers and a trained drone pilot from the government inspectorate and monitoring was focused on incoming and outgoing ships from the main ports in The Netherlands, including the Port of Rotterdam; one of the largest industrial ports in the world.

Jan van den Bos, inspector-general at the inspectorate, speaks to the reasons why he is excited by the collaboration:  “We like to work with the Sea Rangers. Firstly, because it is an opportunity for young people to kickstart their maritime career, and on the other hand, it is an opportunity to have more places to look from, essentially improving our surveillance and making it more effective. It offers us more eyes and ears at sea. In that sense it cuts both ways.”

Looking to the future

With new partnerships such as the one with the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate, the Sea Ranger Service works to accelerate innovations in ocean conservation.

Sea Rangers are equally pleased with the use of drones from the ship. Sea Ranger Nina Hubers: “We have a drone on board our Sea Ranger ship and it is really fantastic to be able to fly with it. It gives us a better overview of what is happening around us at sea.”

Wietse van der Werf, Founder and CEO of the Sea Ranger Service: “We are very proud that the Sea Rangers can be deployed to support the government inspectorate with drone inspections. It ensures we can actively involve young people in achieving better safety and conservation impacts at sea.”