Spill Prevention: National Aerial Surveillance Program

Canada has the world's longest coastline with 243,000 kilometers on the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans, as well as the Great Lakes. Transport Canada (TC) keeps a watchful eye over ships transiting waters under Canadian jurisdiction through its National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP). It is the lead federal department responsible for preventing pollution from ships and the NASP is one method by which this is achieved. Internationally, aerial surveillance is widely adopted and considered to be the most effective method for the detection of oil spills.

National Aerial Surveillance Program logo

Transport Canada provides aerial surveillance over Canadian waters with three aircraft strategically located across Canada. TC own and operate two Dash-8 aircraft located in Moncton, NB and Vancouver, BC. TC also owns and operates a Dash-7 aircraft, which is primarily located in Ottawa, ON. This aircraft is also collocated to Iqaluit, NU, for the Arctic-shipping season (July to October). Through an agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, TC supplements the NASP by using Provincial Airlines Limited (PAL) aircraft for pollution patrols in waters off Newfoundland and Labrador, when required.

The presence of the NASP maritime patrol aircraft acts as a deterrent to would-be polluters as it has become widely known that Canada is implementing its oversight role better than ever before over all three oceans. Regular aerial surveillance flights have contributed significantly to the decrease in oil discharges at sea, as ships are increasingly aware that their illicit polluting activities can be detected. It is analogous to the presence of police cruisers on our highways which can reduce speeding. Evidence gathered by the NASP crews is forwarded to the appropriate departmental and Environment & Climate Change Canada (ECCC) regional offices to enforce the provisions of Canadian legislation applicable to illegal discharges from ships.

The Dash 8 pollution surveillance aircraft is equipped with state-of-the-art aerial surveillance equipment that increases TC’s ability to detect marine polluters.

Transport Canada works closely with other Government Departments to ensure each surveillance hour is as productive as possible by multitasking during each flight. The effectiveness of the surveillance program is constantly monitored to ensure the implementation of the program is efficient. The surveillance equipment used to observe, analyze, record and report marine pollution and other sea based activities is upgraded frequently to ensure Canada remains amongst the top Countries in the world tasked with Maritime surveillance.

TC works with ECCC through a memorandum of understanding in the surveillance of sea based activities such as pollution, ice and marine security. Both departments believe in partnering to benefit from multitasking, which resulted in the creation of the Marine Aerial Reconnaissance Team (MART). The MART provides economical and operational advantages for TC and ECCC by providing timely, accurate and useful information from aerial surveillance operations. Key government departments and agencies rely on this information to fulfill their respective marine mandates and ensure positive outcomes in such areas as security, safe and accessible Canadian waterways, and environmentally sustainable economic development.

TC also uses satellite surveillance to detect illegal discharges at sea. Satellite images are provided by ECCC’s Integrated Satellite Tracking of Pollution (ISTOP) program. ISTOP is used as an early warning system to help personnel direct the aircraft to locations of potential pollution incidents in near real time. Satellite images are used to search for oil-like signatures (anomalies) on the ocean's surface. Identified anomalies are then examined by an aircraft to confirm the spill, identify the source if possible, and gather evidence for prosecution.

The aim of the NASP is to maximize every patrol hour in the air, by relying on the functionality of the NASP's state-of-the-art remote sensing systems and the MART's expertise coupled with ongoing programs such as ISTOP. This combines to make Canada a world leader in marine aerial pollution surveillance and reconnaissance. TC is committed to continuously enhancing the protection of the Canadian marine environment from ship-source pollution, ultimately protecting Canada's ocean resources and fragile marine ecosystems for the benefit of coastal communities and all Canadians.

For more information on the NASP, please refer to Transport Canada's Media Room.

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