Heartbeat Detectors Find Stowaways on Spanish Ferry

The Volcan de Tinamar (file image courtesy Armas)

By The Maritime Executive 10-18-2017 07:55:21

The border police in the city-state of Melilla have a long-running migrant interdiction mission. The tiny Spanish enclave is surrounded by Moroccan territory, and the three layers of fence that separate the two nations are not enough to stop all those who wish to break through and claim asylum.

On Wednesday morning, state security personnel located 67 migrants – including 40 minors – who were attempting to make the crossing to the Iberian Peninsula as stowaways aboard a ro/pax ferry, the Volcan de Tinamar. The immigrants gained access to the port’s truck loading area, intending to hide in trailers and make their way on board. 30 of them were found on the vessel's vehicle decks, hidden amongst the trucks' axles and in the cargo. The Guardia Civil located the migrants by means of heartbeat detectors and search dogs, and removed all of the intruders within 90 minutes. 

Stowaway attempts on the Melilla ferries are a constant concern for the local authorities. In May, seven migrants from Melilla were captured aboard the high speed ferry Pinar del Rio after she struck a jetty in Malaga. Boarding attempts are especially common in the weeks following Melilla’s annual fair, which begins September 8. The return flow of fair-related traffic back to Spain affords migrants additional cover aboard the ferries, according to local outlet El Faro de Melilla. To improve deterrence, the port authority intends to add taller fences, a thermal camera and more lighting, in addition to the Guardia Civil's equipment.

Heartbeat detectors have been on the market for defense, police, border patrol and institutional use for some time, but they are growing more sophisticated as researchers refine the technology. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have recently commercialized a small microwave radar device capable of picking up a human heartbeat at a distance of 65 feet, regardless of obstacles, walls or heavy objects. Testing has shown it to be effective in detecting personnel through 30 feet of concrete. The system – marketed as the R4 Finder – comes in several versions, including drone-mountable and motorcycle-mountable variants.