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Unmanned helicopters to speed up sea rescue

By Zhao Ruixue in Jinan | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-01 09:21
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An unmanned maritime helicopter deployed in Weihai, Shandong province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

After a year of trial operations, two unmanned maritime helicopters were officially deployed in Weihai, a coastal city in Shandong province, on Wednesday.

They are expected to greatly improve the management of maritime traffic and make it easier to respond quickly to accidents at sea, the Weihai Maritime Bureau said.

During a search and rescue mission in early September last year, the first undertaken by one of the helicopters, it arrived at an accident scene 30 kilometers from shore in just 20 minutes, reducing the overall rescue time by 30 percent compared with conventional patrol boats, said Wang Chengjun, an officer with the bureau.

At 7.33 meters long, 1.58 meters wide and 2.43 meters tall, each helicopter has a load capacity of 75 kilograms and can be remotely controlled from up to 150 km away.

They have a maximum range of 400 km and a top speed of 150 km per hour. Each is equipped with advanced capabilities for thermal imaging, long-range video transmission, and emergency supply delivery.

They can also operate in weather conditions with wind speeds of less than 74 km/h, making them the most advanced unmanned helicopters used in China's maritime system, the bureau said.

The waters off Chengshantou in Weihai, which will be monitored by the unmanned helicopters, are a key route for ships traveling to and from ports along the Bohai Sea and the northern part of the Yellow Sea. Each year, approximately 110,000 voyages are made by ships through those waters, while tens of thousands of fishing boats are active in the area.

"The unmanned helicopters will be used for law enforcement activities, such as tracking and investigating illegal vessels," said Wang Gang, director of the bureau's command center.

"They will also play a significant role in conducting large-scale search and rescue operations and monitoring oil spills in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea."

The helicopters are three to five times faster than a patrol boat, enabling quick deployment for emergency search and rescue missions. They also have a wide field of vision, allowing them to search large areas of water.

"The helicopters are especially suitable for use in remote sea areas," Wang Chengjun said.

"In terms of search and monitoring effectiveness, the use of visible light, far infrared and multispectral equipment fitted on the helicopters allows for better identification of targets."

The real-time transmission of on-site information would enhance the bureau's ability to implement effective emergency response plans and actions, he added.

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