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.

National Aerial Surveillance Program logo

Internationally, aerial surveillance is widely adopted and considered to be the most effective method for the detection of oil spills. The presence of the NASP maritime patrol aircraft acts as a deterrent by discouraging illegal discharges of pollution at sea.

Since assuming responsibility of the NASP in December 2003, TC has been proactive in augmenting the effectiveness of the program. TC has increased the frequency of pollution patrols and expanded patrols over areas not historically included, such as in the Arctic. Other TC initiatives include: multi-tasking with other Government Departments to ensure each surveillance hour is as productive as possible, and upgrading its pollution surveillance equipment to ensure Canada has the capability to observe, analyze, record and report marine pollution and other sea based activities. In 2013, the World Class Tanker Safety System Initiative provided the NASP with long term operational funding which improved its maritime surveillance activities by increasing the frequency of patrols across Canada. It also allowed for surveillance system upgrades and additional spare parts to help minimize downtime with the maritime patrol aircraft.

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.

Regular aerial surveillance flights have contributed significantly to the decrease in oil discharges, as ships are increasingly aware that their illicit polluting activities can be detected. The NASP aerial surveillance fleet today consists of three specialized maritime patrol aircraft that are strategically placed across the Country. These maritime patrol aircraft are the primary means of monitoring shipping activities and detecting illegal discharges in all waters under Canadian jurisdiction. TC own and operate two Dash-8 aircraft located in Moncton, NB and Vancouver, BC. TC also own and operate a Dash-7 aircraft, which is primarily located in Ottawa, ON. This aircraft is also co-located to Iqaluit, NU, for the Arctic-shipping season (July to October).

There are also other maritime patrol aircraft contracted by other Government Departments used to supplement the NASP. Through an agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, TC uses Provincial Airlines Limited (PAL) aircraft for pollution patrols in waters off Newfoundland and Labrador. The PAL aircraft is used on an as required basis. Maritime patrol aircraft act 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. 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 Canada (EC) regional offices to enforce the provisions of Canadian legislation applicable to illegal discharges from ships.

TC works closely with EC 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 EC 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 EC’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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