THE SCOTTISH Government’s marine protection vessels are set to be decked out with drone systems and thermal imaging cameras in a bid to more effectively police the seas around Scotland.
Tenders have gone out for ready-to-fly drone systems “designed for vessel-based operations” on Marine Scotland’s three ships Minna, Jura and Hirta.
It is said that the drones would “improve MPV [marine protection vessel] capability in monitoring activity in the marine environment, without altering or influencing the behaviour of the subject prior to inspection by a boarding party”.
The value of the contract, due to run from 23 December to the end of March 2022, is estimated at £2.5 million.
Drones were previously used by Marine Scotland a number of times between 2015 and 2017 for compliance purposes, but they were deployed in “response to a particular fishery issue which no longer requires their use”.
Marine Scotland is also looking to upgrade the three vessels with camera equipment to record fishing activity during daylight hours and also at night.
The agency hopes to be able to record footage at a relatively long distance, with thermal imaging involved.
That contract – which is likely to run from the end of December through to 31 March 2024 – has an estimated value of £870,000.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We take protection of the marine environment very seriously and these two contracts are part of our ongoing commitment to enhance our capability at sea.”
The marine protection vessels help to monitor and enforce marine and sea fishing laws in Scottish waters, and some of them are regular visitors to Shetland.
The ships patrol waters as well as board fishing vessels to check they are complying with regulations.
The 42-metre Minna was launched in 2003 and she is mainly used for inshore enforcement tasks.
The Jura and Hirta, both 84 metres in length, are mainly used for offshore enforcement tasks.
Marine Scotland, meanwhile, “categorically” rejected claims from a Shetland councillor late last year that local fishing boats were being harassed by the marine protection agency while vessels belonging to other EU states were not being inspected as regularly as Scottish boats.