Monitoring of ship emissions praised for sustainable impact

Jean-Baptiste Merveille (Institute of Natural Sciences) receives the honours from Maja Markovcic, Executive Director of EMSA, at the Greening Awards ceremony. Tenerife, June 27, 2024.

The monitoring programme of the Institute of Natural Sciences for emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) of ships at sea was awarded the ‘Special Commendation for Sustainable Impact’ in the context of the Greening Award Initiative of the European Maritime Safety Agency. A well-deserved recognition for the impact and sustainability of our efforts to combat air pollution from ships at sea.

Kelle Moreau

In May 2024, the monitoring programme of the Institute of Natural Sciences for SOx and NOx emissions of ships at sea, part of the aerial surveillance of the North Sea, was nominated as a finalist for the Greening Award Initiative of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), in the 'Greening Operations' category.

The Greening Award Initiative is jointly organised with Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) and the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) and celebrates the sustainability actions of authorities performing coast guard functions in the EU.

The presentation of the awards took place on 27 June 2024 at the 7th Annual European Coast Guard Event, hosted by EFCA in Tenerife, Spain, and had good news in store for the operators and pilots of the Belgian aerial surveillance programme. Although the award went to the Maltese Grand Harbour Clean Air Project, the Belgian programme ‘Remote Measurements for SOx and NOx monitoring’ was awarded the ‘Special Commendation for Sustainable Impact’.

A pioneer programme

Since 2015, the Institute of Natural Sciences, using funding from the Connecting Europe Facility programme, has equipped the Belgian coastguard aircraft with a sniffer sensor to measure ship emissions of ocean-going vessels at sea. This application made it a truly pioneering project, and the program is still a source of inspiration for many other countries.

This monitoring programme is successful thanks to good cooperation with the Secretary of State for Science Policy and the Minister of Defence, who support the maintenance, the operation and the renewal of the Belgian Coast Guard aircraft and examine how a successor can be purchased, with the Minister of the North Sea who, among other things, provided the NOx sensor, and with the Directorate General Shipping, which organizes the follow-up of suspicious SOx and NOx values on land.

The aircraft now monitors for CO2, SO2, NOx, and black carbon, and the reports from its sniffer operations mean that port state control inspection efficiency has improved by over 50%.

Well-deserved recognition

The ‘Greening Operations’ category encompasses operational actions and projects that have led to an improved environmental footprint of ships crossing the North Sea. Important attention is paid to actions or projects which empower a green transition, contribute to a more sustainable future, and which directly or indirectly support the goals of the European Green Deal.

By innovatively applying sensors in the sniffer sensor setup of the Belgian Coast Guard aircraft, continuously monitoring emissions from ships at sea and reporting the results to the competent authorities, and publishing the findings in international professional literature, the Belgian programme does not only contribute to the technical development of equipment to measure air pollution from ships at sea, but also to the development of knowledge about the effect on compliance and to the further development of national and international legislative frameworks.

It is therefore no coincidence that the special commendation that highlights both the impact and the sustainability of that impact was awarded to the Belgian aerial monitoring of SOx and NOx emissions from ships at sea.

Minister of North Sea Paul Van Tigchelt: Establishing low-emission zones in the North Sea and embracing international regulations like MARPOL Annex VI to curb maritime emissions are only effective with strong enforcement mechanisms in place. Belgium has pioneered this effort with the NOx and SOx sensors on the sniffer aircraft. We're paving the way for cleaner air and a healthier environment. This award is a recognition for the excellent work of everyone involved in the sniffer aircraft project.”

Other categories and commendations

More info on the Greening Award Initiative (including the other categories ‘Outreach and awareness raising’ and ‘Greening At Work’) and the nominees in all categories van be consulted here.

It is worth mentioning that within the 'Greening Operations' category there are also Special Commendations for ‘Technical Excellence’ (awarded to the new Spanish Patrol Vessels for Fishing Inspection and Surveillance) and for ‘Sustainable Transformation’ (awarded to Hybrid propulsion naval units for Venice, Italy).

The 'Greening at Work' award went to the Flemish Agency for Maritime and Coastal Services (MDK), that is implementing an ambitious set of sustainability projects across the entire range of its actions and activities under the common denominator 'Working Together Towards a Greener Europe Project'.