A ‘pollution sniffer’ plane crisscrosses Belgium | Roya news
Off the Belgian coast, a small twin-propeller plane flies over giant cargo ships, collecting traces of their exhaust gases and subjecting them to on-site analyzes of sulfur and nitrogen levels.
Vessels risk a fine if the reading is too high.
The Coast Guard aircraft is equipped with an air pollution sensor that crews call the “sniffer.”
Developed by researchers from a Swedish university, it is the pride of the Belgian authorities.
“We are the only country to use this system at the moment,” one of the airline operators, Ward Van Roy, told AFP.
“It’s really efficient because you can check up to 10 to 15 ships per hour, whereas a port inspector has to spend a whole day on a single ship”, explains the young Flemish technician.
The aircraft sits behind the cockpit of the light aircraft – a 49-year-old British-made Britten-Norman Islander – flown by two military pilots accustomed to low-altitude operations.
A computer screen provides the operator with real-time data of the measured samples.
The mission of the “pollution sniffer” is to check whether the nitrogen oxides and sulfur emitted by seagoing vessels meet European standards.
The age of the vessel is a factor in determining acceptable levels of nitrogen oxides.
During this time, any aerial detection must be followed at the port to test the vessel’s fuel before a fine can be imposed.
Van Roy explained that the financial blow can reach 300,000 euros ($ 350,000), in addition to the cost to the operating company if his ship is stranded in port.
This high risk may explain a drop in fines imposed over the past six years.
– Busy shipping route –
But there is also the fact that the port authorities to the ships must cooperate.
“Since 2015, out of 9,000 vessels checked, around 400 were in breach, but only 150 of them had a Belgian port as their destination,” Van Roy said.
The maritime corridor off the 65 kilometers (40 miles) of the Belgian coast is part of the busy sea route between the North Sea and the English Channel.
It is one of the busiest in the world, frequented by tankers, freighters, industrial trawlers and other vessels – up to 400 a day, according to the Belgian Coast Guard, which sees a lot of inbound traffic and leaving the huge European freight ports of Rotterdam. , Antwerp and Hamburg.
So it’s very important to reduce illegal levels of emissions, Van Roy said, adding that around 15% of all sulfur and nitrogen oxide pollution in the world comes from ships.
Beyond this specific task, the sniffer plane crew may spot spills of fuel and fishing infractions, “or just a container or mussel cage lost at sea,” said Benjamin Van Roozendael, of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, which is a partner of the “sniffer” plane initiative.