The coast guard keeps an eye on the sea

Coast guard


  • 01.02.24

    The first workshop and secretariat meeting ECGFF under Portuguese chairmanship took place in Madeira.

  • 30.01.24

    Technical expert marine pollution control | DG Environment | Marine Environment Service

  • 29.09.23

    In Knokke the Belgian presidency of the European Coast Guard Functions Forum (ECGFF) is ended. In the ECGFF, coast guards of several European countries work together to ensure safety at sea. On the final day of the international summit, Flemish minister of Sea Fisheries Hilde Crevits stressed the importance of cooperation with the coast guard and other partners, raising awareness among fishermen and opting for innovation.

    In Knokke the participants talked about maritime safety, law and order for two days, and how it can be further ensured through cooperation across European borders. Over the past year the topics had been prepared in several workshops organised by the Belgian Coast Guard as chair. For example, there were workshops with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, that included illegal immigration by sea. With EMSA, the European Maritime Safety Agency, the focus was on the impact of the European Green Deal on maritime safety and the greening of the fleet. An EFCA (the European Fisheries Control Agency) workshop zoomed in on fisheries control and more specifically on new methods of gathering evidence, and a working group on cybersecurity tried to identify challenges concerning digital security.

    Nathalie Balcaen – co-chair of the Belgian Coast Guard:  “The past 12 months have been a real rollercoaster. We worked together very well with our European colleagues, exchanged a lot of know-how and at the same time inspired each other during many workshops. Most importantly, the ride does not stop here in Knokke. More cooperation and more events like this can only strengthen the clout and efficiency of our Coast Guard. We will continue to work on that, also after this Belgian presidency."

    Piet Pieters – co-chair of the Belgian Coast Guard: “Maybe people don't give much thought to security risks at sea, but there are plenty, such as cargo ship accidents, environmental pollution, illegal immigration … Every day many services are working to manage these risks and use effective crisis management to minimise the consequences of an incident. In case of such complex risks, a multidisciplinary approach is an absolute must, where sharing knowledge across services is crucial. Risks and emergencies sometimes literally float between different countries, international cooperation is a necessity. To strengthen international cooperation, Belgium as chair of the ECGFF has taken several initiatives over the past year.”

    The common thread in safety, law and order at sea in the Belgian presidency was illustrated by two recent incidents in the wind farms in front of the North Sea coast. When a boat carrying transmigrants ran into trouble near a wind farm in 2019, the local and federal police and security forces were only able to locate the sloop quite late. Meanwhile, in cooperation with our neighbouring countries a pilot project to deploy a special EMSA drone at sea has been submitted. More eyes focused on what is happening on the water should be able to detect incidents like this more quickly.

    In February 2022, the General Emergency and Intervention Plan (ANIP) for the North Sea was declared during storm Eunice when 2 large ships went adrift near wind farms. The tanker Maersk Nimbus - with 30,000 tons of flammable cargo on board - came to a halt just 50 meters from a wind turbine. A major disaster was just avoided. Wiljan Meijvogel of the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat spoke about the emergency towing vessel used by the Netherlands in such dangerous North Sea incidents. To be able to respond more quickly to such emergencies, the Belgian Coast Guard recently placed the purchase of its own emergency tug boat on the political agenda.

    The so-called Multipurpose Maritime Operations (MMO) is also an example of cross-border cooperation. In the MMO, fisheries control and other coast guard functions in the same area are internationally coordinated. France and Belgium have already applied for the North Sea area, the Netherlands may also follow.

    The Coast Guard is a key partner in rescue operations and, together with other actors including the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, is also responsible for controlling fishing at sea. For this purpose new techniques are being used and work is increasingly being done digitally. Cooperation and teamwork is important here, as well as raising awareness and supporting fishermen and assisting them with the often complex regulations. Cooperation at European level and with countries such as the United Kingdom and Norway are also essential. This chairmanship has proven that too.

    Flemish Minister of Sea Fisheries Hilde Crevits: “Several partners including the coast guard and the Flemish control services cooperate in inspections on fishing vessels at sea. By joining forces and working closely together across borders, we manage to carry out controls efficiently and with innovative techniques in the interest of the future of fisheries. Not only are these controls necessary to check fishermen's compliance with regulations, but at the same time we assist fishermen to guide them through the sometimes complicated regulations. We are also investing heavily in research and innovation in order to further refine data collection at sea to help fishermen report correctly. Finally, in collaboration with numerous partners, our mission is also to guarantee safety at sea 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

    In the field of maritime safety and law enforcement, Belgium is also keen on participating in a training exchange programme between 1 February 2024 and 2025. Participants will be able to follow a week’s training in an administrative or operational service of the Coast Guard of another Member State.

    Today, in Knokke, Belgium passed the torch of the European presidency to Portugal. Nathalie Balcaen and Piet Pieters handed over the European flag to João Aresta and Jorge Bolas from Portugal. Over the next few months the Portuguese chairmanship will organize several workshops in which our country will also participate.


  • 26.05.23

    In January 2023, the maritime world was impacted on a large scale by a ransomware attack on a leading classification society. More than 1,000 ships were affected. That attack is unfortunately not an isolated incident: in recent years, the entire maritime sector, from ports to passenger ships to classification societies, has been the target of cyber attacks on several occasions.    

    That is why the Cybersecurity Working Group within the European Coast Guard Forum was set up a few years ago. Thanks in part to the knowledge exchanged by member states in the working group on cybersecurity, many attacks can also be avoided every year.This Cybersecurity working group, consisting of 32 experts from the various member states, met from 22 to 24 May 2023 in Brussels.

  • 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