The Malta Independent 13 November 2018, Tuesday

Armed Forces of Malta looking to expand Maritime Squadron’s assets

Michael Carabott Friday, 20 February 2015, 09:51 Last update: about 5 years ago

The Armed Forces of Malta’s long-range off shore-patrol boat - the Diciotti Class P-61 - is struggling to keep up with the demands that are being placed on it in being a lone-wolf on the high seas.

As a result, the government has submitted a request to the EU to secure funds to purchase another vessel so that more time can be dedicated to maintenance and refits. Once the funding request is approved, the government can issue a tender for a tailor-made vessel to add to the AFM’s Maritime Squadron.

The AFM has another two off shore patrol vessels, the US-built Protector Class P-51 and P-52, but these do not have the range, nor the capacity of the P-61.

At present, the P-61 is in dire need of a major overhaul and to plug the gap, the government has secured the procurement of an Irish vessel while it goes in for maintenance.

Stopgap measure and request for funding

 

Speaking to The Malta Independent from Riga, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela confirmed that the Irish government LÉ Aoife – built in 1979 – is expected to have a lifespan of four to five years when it is re-commissioned for use by the Armed Forces of Malta’s Maritime Squadron. It was donated for use by the Irish government after it was decommissioned in January of this year.

Mr Abela said: “Malta has a large SAR area, and the P-61 needs a partner vessel to patrol areas far off Malta’s shores. As a result, the government of Malta has applied for funding through the European Union’s external borders fund, and once it gets the go-ahead, we will issue a tender for the construction of a tailor-made vessel for Malta’s needs.”

Asked how long the process would take, Mr Abela said that it would take about five years for construction and fitting to be complete, which ties in well with the expected lifespan of the Irish vessel.

“Hopefully we can get a couple more years out of it, so at some point, we might actually have three vessels on the go, which means that one out of three could receive more regular maintenance, which in turn will make the vessels last longer,” he said.

The new vessel, which is not even on the drawing board yet, is expected to have similar specifications to the Diciotti class P-61, although Mr Abela does not exclude that it could be larger than the current one.

The P-61 has a helicopter landing deck, but it has rarely been used in full scale operations, and has only been used a handful of times for practice landings by Alouette helicopters in training situations.

The P-61’s landing deck has found more practical use as an area on the vessel where migrants who have been rescued at sea can be crammed, like sardines, for the voyage to Malta – or Sicily – once they are rescued.

Sources within the AFM said that the P-61 can take as many as 275 people on board on the outside deck.

The LÉ Aoife

The vessel, the The LÉ Aoife, will become the largest vessel that Malta has in its Maritime Squadron at  65.2 metres in length, longer than the Diciotti class P-61 53.4m. The new vessel also has capacity for heavier armament than all other patrol boats, giving rise to the suggestion that while she would still be used in search and rescue operations, should could be kitted out to be more of a surface defence vessel.

Earlier this week in parliament, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that “if we thought we had a problem with migrant arrivals before, then we have a bigger problem now”.

Irish assistance

In a meeting with Interior Minister Carmelo Abela in Riga, Latvia, Irish Defence Minister Simon Coveney said the Mediterranean refugee crisis represents a significant challenge for the EU and that while Ireland was not in the front line of the response to the crisis “we were pleased to be in a position to support the response in this manner.”

Minister Coveney said: “The Maltese authorities require the ship for their armed forces to assist in the patrolling of the Mediterranean Sea to deal with the ongoing difficult refugee crisis in the region. Recent tragic events in that part of the Mediterranean have underlined the significant challenges which need to be addressed by the international community and Ireland is very keen to play an active part in this regard.”

In this context the Ministers agreed to transfer ownership of the LÉ Aoife to the Maltese Armed Forces.  The LÉ Aoife was decommissioned from the Irish Naval Service fleet on 31st January 2015 following 35 years of operational service. While the vessel is no longer viable for use in Irish waters it is ideally suited to address a pressing short-term shortfall in the naval capacity of Malta. 

In reply, Mr Abela expressed appreciation for the donation which will be useful in supporting Malta’s work in border security and the migration crisis. He said Malta routinely coordinates the rescue and takes in scores of refugees from the Middle East, N. Africa and the Sahel, often in treacherous sea conditions. This donation from the Irish Defence forces will contribute additional capability to the Maltese authorities, and especially the Armed Forces of Malta in their humanitarian work.

As well as discussing the EU Defence agenda, the Ministers reviewed the continuing cooperation between Malta and Ireland on Defence matters. This included the training of Maltese personnel in Ireland and future potential operations cooperation, building on the successful joint training team Malta and Ireland provided to the EU Training Mission in Somalia. The Minister agreed to explore further prospects for cooperation.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Abela said, I welcome this very important contribution from Ireland which will help in bridging a gap in Malta’s naval capacity pending our future acquisition of a new Offshore Patrol vessel.”

The Ministers instructed their officials to deal with the formal modalities of the transfer of ownership of the ship at the earliest opportunity.”

 

 

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