Unmanned boats expected to enhance security of UAE ports and waters

A fleet of vessels developed for port security and surveillance are expected to begin operating in the UAE.

The Oscar USV hybrid version, an unmanned boat developed by Abu Dhabi-based Al Seer Marine. The boats are now ready for security and surveillance operations and will be used in UAE ports soon. Photo courtesy Al Seer Marine
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ABU DHABI // A fleet of unmanned vessels developed for port security and surveillance is expected to start operating in the UAE soon.

Built by Abu Dhabi-based Al Seer Marine, the three unmanned boats, Sea Serpent, Oscar and Bravo, are the first of many planned this year.

“The unmanned surface vehicles [USV] can be remotely controlled in various ways, from a purpose-built control room fixed or mobile on land or from another larger vessel at sea,” said Matthew Tracy, the project manager at Al Seer Marine.

“We also have a smaller transportable basic control desk and standalone telescopic antenna mast for either remote areas or temporary operations.”

The boats are fitted with advanced robotics and surveillance equipment and can be used for port security, surveillance, inshore or offshore border patrol as well as small island patrol.

“They can also be used for VIP yacht security, marine surveying, oceanographic data collection and analysis as well as sub-surface imaging,” Mr Tracy said.

“The USVs are ready and the models vary to suit the customers’ requirements.”

The 11-metre Bravo, a rigid inflatable boat, is considered more adequate for security operations thanks to its agility on water.

“Al Seer Marine’s range of USVs are unique in their designed mode of operation and, of course, we believe we have the best control hardware or software systems against our competitors,” Mr Tracy said.

“Bravo can also be used as a manned boat with a full crew of up to seven people – flick a switch and it becomes a fully autonomous unmanned vessel. The Oscar USV has hybrid propulsion to expand its operation in terms of time at sea, silent running and lowering the vessel’s emissions.”

The high ambient and water temperatures in the UAE make USVs more efficient during such operations, he said.

“They remove the human from the vessel,” Mr Tracy said. “Even if a manned crew were in air-conditioned surroundings on board, they would still have to go out on deck on a regular basis and the heat increases human fatigue.”

These vessels are the future as removing personnel from a vehicle in a boring, repetitive or dangerous situation, can only improve the overall performance of that platform, he said.

The company plans to present the USVs soon to port authorities in the UAE.

“I am confident that the present security in the UAE ports and waters are more than proficient, but USVs are the future,” Mr Tracy said. “They don’t have bad days, their mind is not thinking about something else and this can only improve the operation in hand and the potential human safety issues.”

Experts said that port security in the UAE is vital.

“In the context of maritime domain awareness is the context of shallow-water operations,” said Dr Theodore Karasik, a director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

“In the threat environment, whether it’s by state, non-state or criminal factors, the protection of shallow waters and ports becomes the most critical issue in terms of security and safety.”

Dr Karasik said producing unmanned waterborne vehicles helped to broaden the scope in which to track and analyse every floating object in and around shallow waters and specifically ports.

“By having waterborne drones added to a protective fleet for a port, this is an extra layer of security that is necessary,” he said. “The UAE is a country that relies heavily on its national heritage and its current status as a sea-lane hub in the global supply chain to protect these ports.”

Al Seer is designing a mid-size USV, expected to launch in April.

“USVs are important to have all over the world,” Mr Tracy said. “We are very fortunate and proud to have been given the opportunity to produce this amazing fleet here in Abu Dhabi.”