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Aerial surveillance

Since December 1990, MUMM has been monitoring from the air the areas of the sea for which Belgium is responsible through an operator’s team especially trained by MUMM.

This airborne surveillance of the North Sea is undertaken in the context of the Bonn Agreement. Each country organises its own surveillance programme in accordance with the guidelines laid down in this Agreement and joint international exercises are carried out several times a year.

From December 1990 until December 2004, MUMM worked closely and on excellent terms with the Department of Defence and its Light Aviation School based in Brasschaat. The School made available to MUMM its fleet of Britten Norman Islander reconnaissance aircraft, and in particular the B02 which MUMM fully equipped with the remote detection and communication facilities required for its mission.

The Britten Norman Islander equipped by MUMM in 1990

MUMM specialists have now been working with these military aircraft and their pilots for 15 years to seek out illegal discharges by vessels in the North Sea. Throughout this period, techniques of observation, photography and recording have been tuned up. The operators have become fully familiar with the screening equipment used to detect marine pollution from a distance. They have been trained in maritime communication procedures and operational tactics used to approach targets in total safety, to identify them and assess their behaviour, whether these targets are vessels or incidents of pollution.

Over the years, it became clear that an aircraft equipped for remote sensing offered MUMM the possibility, above and beyond its original mission, to provide other services at sea, such as detailed scientific evaluation of serious pollutions occurring in the event of shipping accidents and effective assistance in the pollution combating, monitoring fishing activity and the exploitation of sand and gravel beds, the observation of marine mammals and flocks of sea birds, the location of marine fronts separating different bodies of water and the detection of seasonal blooms of algae.

The decommissioning of the aircraft by Defence in December 2004 marked the end of one era and the beginning of another: the aircraft that had been equipped for remote sensing was transferred to the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences (RBINS), which had it restored in line with civil aviation standards and now uses it as a State aircraft.

The Institute continues to work closely with Defence as military pilots are made available under the terms of a protocol. MUMM is therefore embarking upon a new programme of aerial observation of the North Sea in full control of its own resources and with even greater flexibility.

The refurbished Britten Norman Islander equipped by MUMM in 2006

Belgian North Sea Aerial Survey: it’s all in the name!

The term “North Sea Survey” refers to systematic surveying of the seascape, seen from the sky. This is what the new programme aims to do, by orienting the aerial observation towards everything that may characterise the condition of the sea, its environment and what is happening there. From above the water, the flying is still done with the immediate aim of detecting abnormal situations, such as the presence of pollutant waste or objects that are adrift. However, all facets of the sea in the area placed under the jurisdiction of Belgium are worthy of the attention of our aerial observers, who endeavour to discover and document them.

Over the past few years, projects have emerged which will ultimately significantly modify the seascape: the construction of wind farms, the extension of zones within which the seabed is exploited, mariculture facilities, measuring and communication platforms. The marine areas of Belgium — and specifically the exclusive economic zone recognized by international law — will experience unprecedented industrial and commercial development in the near future. At the same time, the pressure exerted by sports and recreational activities along the coast is intensifying and maritime traffic is growing steadily.

These activities need to be managed on a sustainable basis, respecting the character of the ecosystem in the North sea and its natural processes. This is the only way of preserving the services which the sea can offer us, both today and in the future. To make certain of this, the federal authorities have put in place a legislation designed to protect the marine environment and they are undertaking spatial planning of the territorial waters and continental shelf with the intention to prevent conflicts between the various uses that can be made of marine resources.

However, the rules and plans will only be effective if their implementation is monitored. From this perspective, the aircraft constitutes a fast, flexible and efficient monitoring tool. In a context that is evolving rapidly towards greater integration and coordination among the authorities in charge, the information provided by the North Sea Survey is expected to be of increasing use to the entire maritime community.

OO-MMM: what’s in a registration number

The Institute’s aircraft is a State aircraft registered by the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority. As with every Belgian civil registration, its number begins with a double O. For the rest, the Institute has opted for a registration number that calls to mind the triple M slogan of MUMM: M for Monitoring, the surveillance of natural phenomena, the state of the ecosystem and the quality of the marine environment; M for Modelling, to simulate processes and predict how they are likely to develop using computerised mathematical models; M for Management, to help manage the sea and its environment. Curiously, the triple M also evokes the 1999 act on the protection of the marine environment (in Dutch and French: Marien Milieu-Milieu Marin), which is popularly referred to by the same acronym.

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Coastal forecast

1.08 m
3.44 m
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Ostend 1980–2020:
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 Speed 8.90 m/s 
 Sector 65° , ENE 
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 Height 1.18 m
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 MUMM is a department of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences