US border drones grounded after one crashes off California coast

Move comes hours before Obama reiterates in State of the Union that he is limiting use of drones

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 5:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 5:26pm

The US Customs and Borders Protection has grounded drones used to monitor borders and ports after one of aircraft experienced a mechanical failure and had to be ditched in the Pacific Ocean.

An unmanned aircraft, one of 10 operated by the agency, made an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean late in the evening on Tuesday, 32 kilometres southwest of San Diego, California, after experiencing an error, Bloomberg reported, citing agency spokesman Keith Holloway.

The Predator B drone, which costs about US$18 million, had to be abandoned by the crew which was directing its movements by remote, and the transport safety board is investigating the incident, the report said.

The Federal Aeronautics Agency, which was notified of the accident, has not yet drafted regulations allowing routine drone use, which require special permits for government departments to use, the report added.

The Customs and Borders Protection agency uses drones to patrol the Mexican and Canadian borders, as well as America’s coasts.

The news came just hours before US President Barack Obama said in his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday that America “must move off a permanent war footing”, even as it would continue counter-terror efforts. Drones have been used more frequently in US warfare in the Middle East, particularly Pakistan.

While the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) allow precise attacks without risking pilots’ lives, human rights groups have raised alarm at the US drone programme, saying some airstrikes may have resulted in unlawful killings and constitute war crimes. The United States insists these operations are legal.

“That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence,” Obama said in his speech.

With additional reporting from Associated Press