Brussels, 29 Apr 2005
The missions of the EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC) include protecting the Community's budget from fraudulent use or claims for EU money, and monitoring compliance with EU policies. In order to do this, the JRC's Institute for the Protection of Security of the Citizen (IPSC) in Ispra, Italy, has developed a system based on satellite imaging which detects fraud and illegality and saves the EU millions of euro every year.
In an interview with CORDIS News, Jean-Marie Cadiou, the Director of the Institute explained how this technology has been used to monitor the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), combat marine pollution, detect illegal fishing, and, more recently, to better target EU aid to third world countries.
'Our technology is used mainly in three fields,' explained Dr Cadiou. 'The first one is CAP, where we aim to prevent irregularities while providing support to farmers when making subsidy applications. In 2004, our 'control with remote sensing' enabled Member States to assess some 160,000 farmers, saving them from expensive field controls to check that the type of crops cultivated were what the farmers said they were.
The second is in the detection of oil spills from vessels, not only in cases of incidents, but also in terms of routine discharge at sea.
'The operational oil discharges from vessels, although illegal, occur extremely frequently in the Mediterranean, especially around Genoa and southern Sicily,' Dr Cadiou told CORDIS News. 'With the use of remote sensing tools, the IPSC supports the monitoring and deterring of such illegal discharges, which can cause serious damage to the marine environment,' he added.
'Unfortunately,' continued Dr Cadiou, 'when the JRC captures a picture of a ship spilling oil, this information is not valid in court as the ship can always say 'we just happened to pass by', arguing that the oil had been spilled by an earlier ship. Therefore at the moment the information needs to be passed on to coast guards who can then do the arrest. We are working on our technology to hopefully, one day, make it sufficient for court purposes.
The third field is monitoring fishing vessels to protect fishing stocks. Although all vessels fishing in EU waters carry an on-board tracking device that transmits their position every hour to the authorities in both the flag state and the coastal states, these 'blue boxes' can be switched off or tampered with. Satellite imaging is therefore useful in matching the information received from the ships and checking that the ship is the reported location.
Dr Cadiou gave the example of a real case scenario of how useful this technology is. In April 2004 a Russian ship was found fishing illegally in Scottish waters. Thanks to the JRC technology it was possible to verify the presence of the vessel in the forbidden area. Satellite images where then transmitted to the Scottish authorities, who sent out an aircraft and arrested the ship's crew.
'Now the next step is to develop our technology in order to use it increasingly in the third world,' said Dr Cadiou. 'We aim to provide regular crop yield predictions. The EU funds 25 per cent of world aid, and considering the amounts of money involved it is extremely important to better calibrate and direct this aid.'
'Through meteorological land statistical data we are able to create an overview and estimation of crop production. Thanks to images taken in May we can say what will happen in August. This enables us to predict a possible food shortage. The information is then sent to DG ECHO in charge of humanitarian aid, which, thanks to this, is able to better target its intervention,' concluded Dr Cadiou. To find out more about the activities of IPSC please visit: http://ipsc.jrc.cec.eu.int