For the time being, the Waterway Police have about 400 staff members.
- Different boat types:
- 3 sea patrol boats rented from the Flemish Region (1 in Ostend and 2 in Antwerp).
- 9 Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB).
- 5 inland water patrol boats (Ghent Antwerp and Liège).
- 1 work boat
- One drug detector.
- One mobile X-ray cargo scanner.
- One side scan sonar (underwater detection).
- One bio Radar.
- One remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
- Other technical means.
All the technical equipment is used by specially trained staff belonging to a special section of the Waterway Police called TST (Technical Support Team) and located in Zeebrugge.
The Waterway Police are in charge of performing policing missions in sea ports, in the main marinas, on inland waterways and on all waterways falling within Belgian jurisdiction.
Their sphere of activity is very specific and requires special approach, training and equipment.
Just like the Traffic or Railway Police, the Waterway Police fulfil the police function in their specific field.
- Enforcing laws and regulations on and near waterways and aboard ships.
- Border control.
- Judicial policing aboard ships.
- Boat seizures.
- Administrative policing within the scope of the Waterway Police.
- Special support to third parties.
When performing their regular specialised police missions, the Waterway Police deal with and, on the basis of their special police function, struggle against almost all aforementioned phenomena. The Waterway Police are especially active in the fields below, which are considered as priorities, and strive to make first-line high quality reports, which distinguish them from specialised judicial services.
- Illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings
- Road safety
Illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings
One of the basic Waterway Police missions is the control of the external Schengen borders. The illegal immigration, trafficking and trade in human beings phenomena are closely linked with border controls. Illegal immigration is nevertheless a Waterway Police priority, while their missions concerning the other two phenomena are limited to supporting all relevant services (Federal Judicial Police, etc.).
One has witnessed a decrease in the flow of illegal immigrants travelling to Great Britain through Belgian sea harbours. All the efforts made in this field have borne fruit, but the causes of those immigration flows still remain, which may easily lead to a new and big outbreak of the problem. The Waterway Police also support other police services’ actions in their struggle against illegal immigration, for instance by putting some technical means (carbon dioxide meter, bio radar, cargo scanner) at their disposal.
The struggle against drugs is another specialised mission of the Waterway Police. As a first-line police service, they intervene in case of drug abuse or trafficking, for instance when big festivities are organised in the harbour. Controls of ferry-boat or cruise ship passengers related to possible drug trafficking are organised on a regular basis.
If any evidence of drug trafficking can be found or if other police services require it, the Waterway Police may conduct searches. To this end, the Waterway Police have a rummage team with special equipment to conduct thorough searches in and around ships.
Every day, the Waterway Police pay particular attention to environmental issues in and around waterways. Companies that dump waste into harbour waters are kept under close watch. The Waterway Police are frequently required to conduct special inquiries aboard ships suspected of transporting illegal waste or of dumping waste into the sea.
The environment protection issue consists of three elements. Its scale greatly varies from one section to another and depends on the layout of the premises, the nature of the transport and the instructions of the public prosecutor and/or other competent authorities.
Since some expertise is required in order to report most environmental offences, the Waterway police always work in cooperation with one or several partner(s).
- MARPOL (sea pollution due to the illegal dumping of oil, waste and chemicals): every year, during three to four weeks, actions are organised in all sections, in coordination with foreign partners.
As far as MARPOL is concerned, considerable effort has been invested in training. So now, sufficient expertise is available to make basic reports in all sections.
In concrete terms, 60 staff members have been trained. The activities within the framework of the MARPOL legislation will go on, but, from then on, less emphasis will be put on training.
Transport of waste: huge quantities of waste are transported through Belgian harbours because of the strong demand of Eastern countries for reusable products (such as old paper and scrap iron) and of the cost of the products subject to the Recupel legislation. For already two years, the Waterway Police have collaborated on the 'IMPEL-TFS seaport project' managed by OVAM (Public utility of the Flemish region in charge of waste management). Those efforts will be intensified in the future as well.
On request of the Environment department of the Federal Police, the Waterway Police also contribute to providing a global description of waste transport by inland waterways. In 2006, the number of controls and related ECO-forms substantially increased. Those controls may occur on the occasion of specific actions or as part of standard controls during other actions or patrols. Some local police corps also asked the Waterway Police to take part in integrated waste transport controls in some districts.
Harbour and water issue: as a first-line police service, the Waterway Police carry out all police missions at sea and in harbour facilities. Their intervention capacity depends on possible local phenomena/problems and on instructions or requests from the public prosecutor and the authorities.
The Waterway Police have to deal with thefts of and in yachts, thefts of equipment (motors, etc.), thefts of vehicles that are being trafficked through harbours and thefts occurring in harbour facilities.
The Waterway Police struggle against all offences related to yachts by:
- Reporting thefts committed on their territory.
- Developing the Vast InvalsPunt Pleziervaart (VIPP – Pleasure boating information point) in Nieuwpoort, which centralises all data concerning this kind of offence and puts them at the disposal of other units.
- Sharing their expertise with the sections and other police services, for instance by offering advice (by phone), by taking part in actions on the second-hand market and, as experts, by participating in judicial findings.
- Developing a global network making it possible to very quickly exchange data concerning ships, facts, expertise, etc. with other (police) services and, to this end, being an active member of the International Association of Maritime Investigators (IAMI).
- Organising an annual prevention campaign in pleasure boating circles.
In close cooperation with the Federal Judicial Police, the Waterway Police contribute to the struggle against trafficking in stolen vehicles through harbours. A distinction is to be made between trafficking in luxury cars, which are mostly stolen to order, and trafficking in vehicles that can almost be regarded as scrapheap. The contribution of the Waterway Police is limited to specialised first-line reports. Considering their knowledge of the harbour and the network and technical means at their disposal, the Waterway Police are the ideal service in order to perform this mission. Despite their limited capacity, about a hundred stolen vehicles are intercepted every year.
The Waterway Police report many thefts committed in harbour facilities. Since those cases do not require the intervention of a specialised police service, the Waterway Police try to deal with such cases as little as possible and try, for instance, to conclude agreements with other police corps.
Protection of the harbour and terrorism
Since the attacks of 11 September 2001, many measures have been taken at international level in order to significantly improve security in harbours. Besides the permanent protection of sensitive areas, the Waterway Police are frequently urged for extra capacity during long or short periods of increased threat as well.
Harbours are indeed logistic hubs where inland waterways and railways network meet. Moreover, most harbours are located near roads (motorways) in order to be accessible in a quick and freely way. One of the side effects of this situation is that criminals can also take easily advantage of this accessibility.
In the course of 2005, the Waterway Police analysed the potential terrorist threat coming from maritime navigation. The “Maritiem terrorisme – een globale benadering” (Maritime terrorism – a global approach) analysis, made by superintendent Jochen Willems, describes the current situation and threat, the partners of the Waterway Police, the legal framework and the possible measures to be taken to avoid terrorist attacks. This analysis, which will be the vital lead for the future harbour protection measures, also emphasises the lack of awareness of the terrorist threat: the part played by Belgium in this field is hardly known at any level of the police scene. A study showed that, somehow or other, a link is almost always likely to be established between the recent international terrorist attacks and Belgium, for instance as far as the preparation and execution of terrorist actions and the recruitment and sheltering of terrorists are concerned.
Shipping offences and accidents
The priority of the Waterway Police is of course the security of the sea and inland waterways traffic. Although the number of shipping accidents is much lower than the number of road accidents, their consequences in terms of victims and material damage are much more serious.
The way and the extent to which the Waterway Police attend to the observance of shipping regulations depend on the nature of the traffic (pleasure boating, inland navigation, maritime navigation, transport of goods or passengers, etc.), the relevant legislation, the area of competence of other services and the agreements concluded with the competent authorities.
As far as road traffic is concerned, the scope of action of the Waterway Police is, as much as possible, limited to reactive interventions. If a traffic problem occurs at local level and requires a more specialised approach or extra capacity, a partner of the Local or Federal Police will be entrusted with the approach of the problem.