SUMMARY: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) represent a tremendous opportunity for small U.S. Coast Guard units without direct aviation assets to monitor potential environmental hazards such as fuel leaks from distressed vessels.
PROBLEM: On Tuesday, August 30 the M/V Jane Delta, a 80-foot Azimut motor yacht docked in the 4900 block of Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, Florida began sinking in her mooring slip. Alarmed residents contacted Coast Guard Sector Miami which promptly deployed it's Response Team, along with commercial salvage operators from Tow Boat U.S. After several hours, the incident appeared to be under control with the yacht in the process of being re-floated. Airborne Response voluntarily deployed a UAS operator to the scene to assess the situation from the air. From surface level and from an altitude of approximately 40 feet, everything appeared to be fine. However, when the Pilot in Command (PIC) of the UAS ascended to an altitude of approximately 200 feet directly overhead of the vessel, he noticed a problem. Although a environmental containment boom had been placed around the Jane Delta, the boom appeared to have a leak. A visible sheen of fuel was visible leaking from the northwest corner of the boom down Indian Creek and represented a potential environmental hazard.
The Airborne Response PIC quickly notified the Coast Guard personnel on site of the leak, and showed them the evidence via the operator's video screen. Coast Guard personnel reacted promptly, and soon two fuel trucks arrived to offload the remaining fuel from the Jane Delta. Because the fuel leak was only noticeable from the higher altitude, the spill may have continued to go unnoticed until it became a much larger problem had Airborne Response not deployed the UAS to conduct an aerial assessment of the incident.
SOLUTION: Small UAS' should be used by Coast Guard units and other agencies who respond to hazardous materials (HAZMAT) incidents to conduct an aerial assessment of the incident. UAS can be deployed rapidly and represent a much more cost effective solution compared with traditional air units when conducting these types of evaluations.