Sunday, September 20, 2020
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Exercise 'Cathach' - SURVEY OBJECTIVES

Exercise 'Cathach' is a marine incident response demonstration involving an oil/chemical spill situation in an estuary environment. The exercise is organised by the Mobile and Marine Robotics Research Centre at the University of Limerick, Shannon Foynes Port Company and Clare County Council; it will be held in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland, from 17th to 18th April 2013 and will be executed as a real incident response following state protocols. 

The exercise itself is a joint collaboration between an Interreg IVB project, NETMAR, and the Shannon Estuary Anti-Polution Team (Sea-PT) with the support from additional state agencies such as the Irish Coast Guard and Defence Forces.

In addition to shoreline activites, the response will implement state-of-the-art aerial (in collaboration with the Irish Aviation Authority) and underwater vehicles (UAVs, ROVs and AUVs) for remote sensing operations. These vehicles developed in-house by industry (Technalia) and research institutions (FEUPULNUIM) will be used in order to assess and relay in-situ sensor data, ultimately allowing for fast effective deployment of resources essential to be able to contain and control spills in a safe manner. 

A whole host of other agencies are also involved in both technical and logistical roles. These include SmartBay, Marine Institute, Civil Defence, Naval Service Reserve, Environmental Management Services, Commnet, Baseline Surveys Ltd and a host of others.  

Exercise Cathach was a Command Room Strategic Exercise with real time interface to several external participants and interaction with live field operations. The principal entities involved in Exercise Cathach were SEA-PT, NETMAR and the Irish Coast Guard. One of the principle concerns was the demonstration, evaluation and dissemination of new robotic systems, sensors and networking technologies. 

The primary goals of the exercise included:

>     Planning and execution of a coordinated emergency response exercise to a simulated pollution spill of hazardous and noxious substances.

>   Deploy a range of emerging technologies for remote sensing operations, demonstrate specific capabilities and evaluate their merits in an operational setting.

The exercise was carried out following state legislation in collaboration with four Irish state organisations - Irish Coast Guard, Irish Defence Forces, Local County Council Office (Clare) and Local Port Company (Shannon Foynes). The exercise which took place in the estuary involved over 200 personnel from a range of marine bodies and replicated the exact scenario and response if a 42,000 tonne container ship grounded within a special area of conservation.

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This collaboration brought together a significant number of state organisations, research institutions and industrial partners both from across the Island of Ireland and Europe. Remote sensors were established at a number of locations around the Shannon Estuary, on land and at sea. A command structure was put into place by the Irish Coast Guard and a command centre was setup in Moneypoint power station. The Irish Naval Service established a seaborne exclusion zone on the sea and the Irish Aviation Authority established an aerial exclusion zone up to 1000ft. Clare County Council oversaw operation on the land and seaborne operations were oversaw by the Irish Coast Guard in collaboration with Shannon Foynes Port Company and the Irish Naval Service.

State-of-the-art wifi infrastructure was setup to relay communications from locations across the estuary back to the command centre, this incorporated a 40mb link from moving Ships, UAV’s, ROV’s and AUV’s. The general overview is shown below.

Response capabilities of the consortium included a number of innovative designs used to collect and distribute fast accurate remote sensor data. Response capabilities included Oil Simulation Tracking, Aerial Reconnaissance, Bathymetric Survey, Underwater Inspection and Shoreline Cleanup. A number of ships were used during the exercise including the ILV Granuaile (Full DP Control).

The integration of remote sensors into a marine incident involving chemical and oil leak in an Estuary was implemented over the course of the ‘Cathach’ exercise. The incident involved a 42,000 tonne container ship grounding and losing cargo over the side. The cargo contained Formaldehyde and Acrolein and subsequent medium oil was dispersed from bunkers. The UAV FULMAR, under development by TECHANLIA, was tasked to survey the scene from the air and a live video feed of such was relayed from the UAV pilot/control take off and land station back the 15km to the command centre with point to point radio link. Through this fast relay of data, assessment of the area was completed without delay and additionally ground truthing of the oil dispersion from UAV camera imagery was able to be fed back into oil simulation model (OILMAP – held by SFPC). Oil dispersion information was provided to seaborne cleanup operations and also to Clare County Council in an effort to direct shoreline cleanup personnel.

            ROV’s and AUV’s were also tasked to the area in order to search for, locate and survey missing cargo and also to survey the stricken vessel. ROV LATIS,carried out a search using forward looking sonar configuration, Reson 7128 high resolution FLS used and located potential targets as lost deck cargo after a few short minutes which were confirmed in camera view when the ROV came into close quarters with the targets. The use of the forward looking sonar has allowed for distances of up to 120 metres range from the ROV to be covered in search / mapped with a high degree of accuracy, allowing completion of large area surveys in minimal times. The sonar and onboard camera video streams from LATIS were transmitted in real time back to the command centre over WiFi link, allowing this information to be assessed immediately, ultimately allowing for fast effective response.

UAV FULMAR was launched from shore and was tasked to survey the stricken vessel as it lies and also survey the surrounding area. Wind speeds were recorded during flight at up to 72km/h. The UAV could also be tasked to survey any oil (not actually present in the training exercise) which would be visible on the surface, this information would be fed back to oil simulation models as ground truthing. Once completed the UAV was safely recovered to ground via a net.                                 

AUV SEACON, supported with Ribs on site from the LÉ Orla, was successful in locating the remaining cargo containers at a depth of 15MSW. The AUV carried out a search pattern using onboard side-scan sonar and located potential deck cargo targets standing upright on the seabed. Side-scan sonar was employed to complete wide-area search patterns, producing accurate backscatter maps. This data was recovered from the AUV, used to identify and locate the potential submerged cargo targets. All images/data recovered from the AUV was sent via Wifi back to the command centre. In a realincident these identified targets would be confirmed with camera with ROV deployments direct to target. 

ROV LATIS completed a survey of the hull of the stricken vessel. The ROV used the forward looking sonar to complete this task and the real time video streams from onboard sonar and video were again relayed back to command.

This high resolution sonar data (and video) can be assessed to not only give an accurate picture of the hull to check if intact or for breaches but also give a high resolution image of how the ship lies on the seafloor. Such surveys can be of particular interest when it comes to recovering the vessel or if the vessel is in danger of moving - such as in the case of the Costa Concordia in 2012 in the Mediterranean. 

There were many, many other aspects of the ‘Cathach’ exercise which are not documented here and which came from partners outside of the NETMAR project, but who nevertheless worked with us towards the project objectives. These include NUIM, Baseline Surveys, Commissioner of Irish Lights, Irish Coast Guard, ComNET, Marine Institute and many others. All of the aspects and results of the exercise can be found at

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