Innovative UK space technology protects Malaysian coastline from oil slick

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The Satellite Applications Catapult, leading a consortium of innovative UK companies, has successfully created a system that can automatically detect oil slicks from space and forecast their movement. The system has since enabled Malaysian authorities to avert a potentially major environmental disaster from a 5 km2 oil slick in what was a major success for the UK-built Earth And Sea Observation System (EASOS).

EASOS was built in the UK by a consortium of companies led by the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult and was funded by the UK Space agency as part of the International Partnership Programme (IPP). Malaysian authorities used the solution to detect a spill of over 40 tonnes of oil off the coast of Johor, South Malaysia.

The Malaysian team, operating from the Borneo Centralised Monitoring Centre (BCMC), were able to pass information on the oil slick directly to the Johor Marine Department who deployed two vessels to search, locate, contain and disperse the slick before it was able to reach the Malaysian coastline. Work continues to estimate the likely financial and environmental benefit from this averted environmental disaster, however, early estimates based on impact to fisheries, tourism, the marine ecosystem and clean-up along 13km of coastline could have exceeded RM 8m/£1.5m.

This was the second time that the EASOS system supported the Malaysian Government in its efforts to reduce the impact of marine pollution. In April, an oil slick hit the coast around Tanjung Balau, Johor. Working in partnership with KASI (the company operating the BCMC), the system was used to identify potential sources of the original slick.

Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult said, “The EASOS system is a remarkable example of what satellite data, combined with machine learning and on-the-ground information, can do. Today we can monitor oil slicks automatically, we can predict the impact of flooding on communities up to 7 days in advance and we can provide vital information on illegal deforestation activities, all using satellite data. By supporting the Malaysian authorities in their battle against pollution in the Malacca Straits, we’re proving the value and power of these solutions created by innovative UK companies.”