Maritime authorities in eastern China’s Nanjing have used drones to conduct day-to-day inspection of waterways under their jurisdiction, improving the efficiency of law enforcement and reducing energy costs and carbon emissions, local media reported on April 9.
At the command center of Nanjing Maritime Safety Bureau, law enforcement officers can send drones up from their hangars 40 km away and hovering in mid-air, pending further instructions — all with the press of a button.
“Officers are able to issue commands to control drones to shuttle across bodies of water under their jurisdiction,” said Guo Qianzhuo, an official with the bureau. “When emergencies occur or upon receiving an SOS signal, drones will arrive within the shortest time possible at the designated spot and beam back images in real time.”
He added that when a ship encounters a glitch and stops, officers can employ drones to identify its position, so as to devise rescue plans and dispatch rescuers.
Compared to manned inspection, drone-assisted control has the added benefit of being fit for all working conditions, including at night. Equipped with infrared cameras, it puts water traffic under 24-hour surveillance, making life easier for law enforcement squads.
This also can increase the operability and flexibility of maritime on-the-spot inspection from afar.
Through cloud-based remote control, drones can turn into “aerial” police to effectively crack down on maritime offense.
Over the course of carrying out their work, inspectors can zero in on a suspect vessel, zoom in, recognize its name and waterline, and check on the status of its sealed cargo, media reported.
After finishing its job, the drone autonomously flies back to base to be recharged.
According to Chinese media reports, a few day earlier maritime inspectors at the command center in Nanjing saw a vessel dumping debris into the Yangtze River on images send back by drones.
They grabbed a few snapshots promptly to document the proof, and later slapped the offenders with a fine.
“Previously, such acts of offense were hard to detect in a manned inspection mode,” said Li Weiwei, another official at the command center.
To date, drone inspectors have caught more than 100 breaches of law, emerging as an important method of law enforcement.
Drones also helped slash costs of maritime inspection. Authorities in Nanjing said they could complete a drone cruise patrol within 20 to 30 minutes on a single charge.
This is way more economical than manned inspection, which relies on fuel-powered maritime vessels.
Currently, Nanjing maritime officers send drones on missions four to six times a day. The frequency could go up depending on circumstances.
Human inspectors normally find it difficult to monitor the same vessel for a prolonged period of time. But drones, which do not have blind spots, can overcome this limitation and adjust its flying height and angle to perform tasks in all weathers, said Guo, the Nanjing maritime official.
It takes a four-member or five-member crew to accomplish a half-day inspection tour. Comparatively, with drone patrol, only one person is needed, involving a smaller safety risk,” he added.
Nanjing maritime authorities have built drone hangars in five major locations and surrounding areas, with a total radius of 30km, enough to span 60% of the waterways under inspection.
In coming two years, the city will ramp up its efforts to cover the remaining bodies of water and ensure eco-friendly protection of Yangtze.