Monday, May 3, 2021

E.U. border agency Frontex to deploy drone from Malta

A large drone is to be deployed from Malta in a multi-million euro mission that E.U. border protection agency Frontex hopes will help support longer rescue operations.

The agency last year awarded contracts totalling €100 million to Airbus and an Israeli arms company to operate remotely piloted aircraft systems for maritime aerial surveillance services.

A drone carried out a test flight from Malta IAP Friday, according to a source who provided photos of the aircraft.

"Often our planes have to return to base because of fuel limits, something that we saw last week when a Frontex plane spotted a boat in distress and alerted all Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres in the area," a spokesperson for Frontex said.

"When we learned that Italy had dispatched three merchant vessels, the plane had to return to base as it was running low on fuel and was in danger due to increasingly strong winds."

The drone will be used purely for border surveillance purposes and will not carry weapons, the spokesperson said.

Frontex was asked when the service will start to be provided from the island, which areas will come under surveillance, and which authority will be alerted to migrant movements.

The Frontex spokesperson said that it was too early to discuss such details. As with airplanes or boats used by the agency however, whenever a boat in distress is spotted, Frontex alerts all relevant national rescue centres, he said.

"We do hope that the drones will allow us to support rescue operations for longer periods of time," he added.

Times of Malta was unable to confirm if similar Frontex drones will also operate out of Greece and Italy.

In the central Mediterranean region, the rescue coordination centres are in Italy, Malta, Libya and Tunisia. In the most urgent cases, Frontex also issues an open distress call to all ships in the area of the search and rescue event.

Questions sent to the home and foreign affairs ministries remained unanswered.

(Source: timesofmalta.com, 3-May-2021)