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Dubai Customs gets underwater drone technology to enhance inspection

By Dubai Customs

In August 2020, Dubai Customs started deploying a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), also called an underwater drone, to boost its marine inspection capabilities. The drone has already proved useful in tackling attempts by traffickers and criminals to bring contraband and prohibited goods into the United Arab Emirates.

The mini-submarine can travel at 15 kilometres per hour and is connected to a wire with a range of about 30 metres. Fitted with a 4K high-definition camera, it takes live video and clear photographs to enable Customs officers to complete a thorough inspection of vessels. Officers are on the look-out for contraband which can be hidden in the hulls of vessels, as well as for packages of drugs that can be attached to the bottom of boats.

Dubai Customs does not have its own diving team and, in the past, the Customs rummage team would normally search the cabins and the decks of a boat but not underneath the boat. It relies on the services of Dubai Police to do so. Now, the team can use the drone to check any part of a boat as far as 50 metres in the water and can scan a vessel in less than 15 minutes. Images are sent to an operations room where they are analysed. If anything suspicious is identified from the images received from the ROV, Customs will still rely on the Police divers to carry out an inspection or the boat would have to be placed on the dry dock.

A two-strong unit has been set up to handle the drone, which is used in particular to inspect the undersides of wooden boats that come into Dubai Creek from neighbouring countries. Further sophistication is underway to make the tool also usable in more challenging underwater search operations of larger vessels including at the Port of Jebel Ali.

The equipment has its limitations. For example, visibility may vary according to weather conditions, the water depth and currents. Dubai Customs is currently working on upgrading the drone by mounting sensors that will allow one to see the depth of the drill, installing a sonar that will enhance underwater visibility, as well as stabilizers which would make it possible to navigate underwater if there are strong currents.

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