Spraying dispersant and recovering oil floating on the surface of the sea after an oil spill is a challenging operation.

The Ocean Eye balloon provides the oil recovery vessel with a direct bird’s eye view of the oil spill

The Ocean Eye balloon provides the oil recovery vessel with a direct bird’s eye view of the oil spill

It is made more challenging by the difficulty in seeing where the oil is lying on the surface. Helicopters, drones, satellites and aircraft have all been used to track floating oil but these are expensive solutions. A Norwegian company has now developed a cheaper and what is claimed to be a very cost effective solution.

This involves deploying a helium filled balloon from the vessel doing the oil recovery operation. This tethered balloon carries a camera which is downward looking and which is designed to transmit the images wirelessly to an onboard terminal that allows the pictures to be displayed in real time. This means that the oil recovery vessel has a direct bird’s eye view of the oil spill which enables it to focus on the contaminated areas. This results in increased recovery rates and/or a considerable saving in the dispersants used on the oil.

When inflated the OceanEye balloon is around 4m in diameter and is fitted with a fabric fin to stabilise it so that steady pictures can be received. It is deployed and recovered using a winch for the tethering rope and it offers a view of over four nautical miles when flying at an altitude of 150m. When stowed, the OceanEye balloon and winch fit onto a standard pallet for easy transportation, allowing it to be deployed from vessels of opportunity as well as from dedicated oil recovery vessels.

The camera unit can transmit pictures both in a normal camera mode as well as using infra-red. The latter enables it to still operate at night and also in fog when flying surveillance may be curtailed. The unit also incorporates an AIS receiver, allowing shipping to be detected and also to give a position reference to the on board display which can be referenced to nautical chart displays.

Maritime Robotics, who developed the OceanEye system, works with many Norwegian oil spill clean up operators. The OceanEye is also expected to have application for other maritime surveillance requirements such as fishery protection and anti-smuggling operations.

Further information: www.maritimerobotics.com

By Dag Pike