The coast guard keeps an eye on the sea

Coast guard


  • 08.05.23

    What technologies are used and can potentially be used in the future for the monitoring and inspection of fisheries? What are the current and future developments in fisheries control? How does Belgium do it? What does the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) do and how do other European Union coastguard partners conduct fisheries control? How does this work in practice? 

  • 19.04.23

    How does the Green Deal affect the operations of coast guard authorities from different European partners? The Green Deal is a package of policy initiatives launched by the European Commission which aims to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050. How can we make security and law enforcement in European waters as green and sustainable as possible? What opportunities does the Green Deal create for coast guard organisations? And what challenges does this pursuit of sustainability entail?  

    These questions constituted the theme of the second workshop under the Belgian chairmanship of the ECGFF, the European Coast Guard Functions Forum, which brings together the coast guard authorities of several European countries to work on collaborative issues.  

    From Monday the 17th  till Wednesday the 19th of April, delegations gathered in the Portuguese capital Lisbon, where EMSA is headquartered. The European Maritime Safety Agency was established in 2002 to ensure a high, uniform and effective level of maritime safety, security, prevention of and response to pollution caused by ships.

    The workshop kicked-off with a welcome speech by Nathalie Balcaen, Flemish president of the ECGFF. Ms Balcaen emphasized the commitment of the Belgian Coast Guard, which guards one of the shortest stretches of coastline in Europe but is at the same time partly responsible for one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. 

    During a first session, information and expertise was mainly exchanged on the new legislation surrounding the Green Deal and on challenges and opportunities for maritime transport, i.e. using alternative energy sources to power ships and better monitoring and control of exhaust fumes.

    The topic of marine pollution was also discussed, more specifically prevention activities to protect the environment and the deployment of resources in the event of a pollution incident. 

    How can the Coast Guard adequately respond to loss of cargo from ships, or fuel tank leaks? And most importantly, how can pollution, of any scope, simply be avoided? 

    A notable speaker on the first day was Mr. Carl Decaluwé, governor of the Belgian province of West Flanders. The governor is responsible for coordinating emergency response on the North Sea and chairs the Belgian Coast Guard’s consultation body.

    The second day was largely dedicated to EMTER 2.0, the European Maritime Transport Environmental Report. The workshop looked ahead to the results of this new study by EMSA and the European Environment Agency (EEA), which will not be published until next year. The report is a follow-up to the first version which was published in 2021 and probes the far-reaching effects that maritime transport has on the environment. For instance, it zooms in on the effects of shipping on climate, air quality, marine fauna and flora and the health of European citizens.  

    During the closing session, Ms. Maja Markovčić Kostelac, Executive Director of EMSA, commended the Belgian Chairmanship of the ECGFF underlining the excellent cooperation that went into organising what was a highly informative and yet very practical workshop.

    The next European workshop will once again take place on the Belgian coast. It starts on May 2nd  with the BELCOASTEX exercise, during which various security scenarios will be tested in an offshore wind farm. From 2 to 4 May, EFCA, the European Fisheries Control Agency, will take centre stage. At the end of May, delegations will meet in Brussels to discuss cyber security. Later this year, in September, the final conclusions of the workshops will be formulated during a closing event in Knokke, Belgium. After this, the Belgian presidency will be concluded and the chairmanship of the ECGFF will be passed on to Portugal.

  • 03.03.23

    In the framework of the Belgian presidency of the European Coast Guard Functions Forum (ECGFF), Frontex and the Belgian Maritime and River Police organised a workshop from February 28th till March 2nd with the assistance of the Coast Guard Secretariat. With approximately 100 participants from different European countries, interesting presentations, a panel discussion and numerous opportunities to exchange expertise and to network, it can be considered a very successful first edition of the workshops

  • 04.10.22

    During the closing ceremony of the European Coast Guard Functions Forum (ECGFF) summit , which was held from 5 to 7 September 2022  in Split, Belgium has taken over the chairmanship from predecessor Croatia.

    The European flag was handed over to the Belgian Coast Guard chair Piet Pieters and the regional Coast Guard chair Nathalie Balcaen, both of whom exchanged information and best-practices with their colleagues around the organization of this important event.

    The ECGFF is an ideally suited instrument to exchange information, share both best practices and lessons-learned, learn from jointly organized exercises, work together on common solutions and overcoming obstacles. In short it is a unique opportunity to strengthen our bonds with the coastguard organization of the European member states.

    As current chair to the ECGFF, Belgium is organizing following activities in the months to come:

    • a workshop in cooperation with Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency). This is important in the framework of a common policy for transmigrant issues.
    • a workshop in cooperation with EMSA (European Maritime Safety Agency) covering a wide array of topics such as maritime sustainability, security and the Green Deal.
    • a meeting of the working group Cyber Security to look into depth in all issues regarding digital safety and cyber-attacks.
    • a workshop "use of evidences obtained through modern technologies in Fisheries Control and Inspection" and an exercise "COASTEX 23" in cooperation with EFCA (European Fisheries Control Agency)
    • a summit in cooperation withDG MARE (Directorate General Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) to disscuss the results of the workshops at a strategic level and to highlight Belgian cases such as the need for an Emergency Towing Vessel and extra 'eyes' in the sky for  Search & Rescue. 

    We want to offer the participants a chance to get to know our multi-faceted country better as well as our eleventh province, namely the North Sea. 


  • 16.06.22

    From 30 May to 2 June, the Belgian aerial surveillance aircraft carried out an international mission to Brittany in France. The aircraft is owned and operated by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) and is frequently used in Belgium in the framework of the Coast Guard. International missions are also on the agenda. The purpose of this mission was twofold: the aircraft took part in an international sea trial for the detection and monitoring of chemical pollution and checked with the sniffer sensor the air emissions from ships at the border of the Emission Control Area (ECA) for compliance with the international emission regulations laid down in the so-called MARPOL Annex VI.

  • 13.01.21

    On Wednesday 13 January 2021, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of North Sea Vincent van Quickenborne checked to what extent ships in the Belgian part of the North Sea comply with the applicable air pollution standards. To this end, he flew along in the Belgian Coast Guard plane, operated by our coast guard partner MUMM. Through the application of a 'sniffer' sensor in this aircraft, our country is known as a pioneer in the international fight against air pollution above the sea. The sensor allows polluting components in ship emissions to be measured in the field. Sulphur measurements have been on the programme since 2016, and since 2020 nitrogen compounds can also be detected. With this, Belgium was the first to be ready to monitor above the sea the restrictions on nitrogen emissions from ships that will apply in the North Sea from 1 January 2021.

    Photos provided by MUMM/RBINS

  • 18.08.20

    The past weekend, striking orange spots and strings were observed in the Belgian part of the North Sea near the Buitenratel sandbank. A sailor reported this to the Coast Guard centre (through the Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre - MRCC) as a possible pollution. After inspection by various coast guard partners, Maritime and River Police, ministry of Defence and the Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models (MUMM, it became clear that this was an unseen bloom of the single-celled plankton species ‘Sea Sparkle’. The warm and calm weather of the past few days is probably an important explanatory factor. The mass is already rotting, which could possibly lead to oxygen deficiency and fish mortality. It is also possible that the remains will be washed ashore on Belgian beaches during this week.

    We cannot be sure that this will be the case. However, should the noctiluca wash ashore, this will be not be in one particular spot, but scattered along the whole coast since these are living organisms and the wind can change direction. We have no knowledge about distinctive foam patterns as was the case this spring with the algal blooms (ofPhaeocystis) and the tragic incident in Scheveningen in which five surfers lost their lives. These are a different sort of plankton.
    Apart from some odour nuisance of rotting Noctiluca, there is no risk for bathers, swimmers or watersports enthusiasts. It is a harmless species, which will disappear of its own accord in time.



  • 20.05.20

    Our coast guard partner agency for Maritime and Coastal services (MDK) restarted the ferry services in Ostend and Antwerp. 

    To ensure everybody's safety, following rules apply:

    Ostend ferry: face mask is obligatory for passengers of 12 years and older -  maximum of 11 passengers including 4 bikes per crossing. 

    Sint-Anna ferry in Antwerp: face mask is obligatory for passengers of 12 years and older -  maximum of 50 passengers including 10 bikes per crossing.

  • 06.05.20

    For two years, a number of our coastguard partners as well as the coast guard secretariat were under the spell of the MAiDEN project. The goal of MAiDEN was to ensure a more efficient information exchange between the partners of the coast guard centre. We received EU-funding and on april 30th, we have filed our final report with EASME, the agency tasked with the monitoring of the good use of EU funding. This means that the MAiDEN project is finalized, but it is not an end point. Quite the contrary, all partners involved are committed to continue along this path. Based on the results of the MAiDEN project, we keep working on a new information management system and we look into how more coast guard partners can join. 

    More on MAiDEN? Read the interview or take a look at the infographic.

  • 29.04.20
    Controle Zwaveluitstoot©KBIN/BMM

    In 2019 our coast guard partner Management Unit of the Mathematical Model of the North Sea flew a total of 246 hours on missions to observe the North Sea from the air. They do so with their own aircraft of the Britten Norman Islander type. This aerial surveillance is very useful for a number of reasons: to track down oil spills or other types of marine pollution, to contribute to a recognized maritime picture in case of a contingency at sea, to assist with fishery control and to follow-up on the number of marine mammals. Last year, MUMM operators observed 13 instances of discharges by vessels at sea, carried out important censuses of marine mammals and kept track of the activities in the offshore windparks. 

    Furthermore, the MUMM aircraft carried out a number of 'sniffer-flights', to see if the limits for sulphur emission are respected. The aircraft is equipped with a sniffer sensor, a sort of sulphur-sniffing device. When the aircraft flies through a plume of smoke coming from a certain vessel, the sensor measures the level of sulphur present. In case the level is too high, maritime inspection services ashore are alerted for a further follow-up. Last year, of the 1241 vessels that were inspected at sea, 51 showed suspiciously high sulphur values in their exhaust plumes. Belgium is one of the few countries performing such monitoring. For more information, see this video on the monitoring of sulphur emissions.

    Last but not least, the plane successfully participated in an internationally coordinated surveillance mission of the oil and gas installations in the central part of the North Sea.