Malta Maritime Squadron
The AFM’s Maritime Squadron, which forms part of 2 Regiment is based at Hay Wharf, Pietà, and is composed of some 220 personnel, including the Rapid Deployment Team. The squadron operates a brand new ‘Diciotti’ Class offshore patrol boat (above), two new ‘Protector’ Class patrol boats, four inshore patrol boats of the ‘Swift’ and ‘Bremse’ classes as well as two ‘Vittoria’ Class rescue launches (top right).The Diciotti class vessel, at 54 metres, is the largest boat ever operated by the squadron. It was adapted by Fincantieri for the AFM’s requirements and includes a helicopter deck. The squadron’s facilities include a repair yard with ancillary logistical branches.
The Maritime Squadron is one of the major operational units of the Armed Forces of Malta and conducts a wide variety of tasks, ranging from maritime security patrols aimed at maintaining the territorial integrity of the sea areas of national interest to law enforcement missions in inshore areas. Amongst the most onerous of its tasks is maritime search and rescue, a task which in recent years has assumed an enormous dimension in view of the irregular migration phenomenon that is affecting Malta and other EU Member States bordering the Mediterranean littoral.
The Maritime Troop had been set up on Apri l5, 1971 when the Maltese flag was raised for the first time on two fast ‘Swift’ Class patrol boats that were handed over by the US Government during an official ceremony held at Sheer Bastion Wharf. The Maritime Squadron has been modernised. While the original two former US Swift class patrol boats continue to give sterling service for inshore patrols, much work is done by two new Bollinger Protector Class boats.
Clearly, maritime patrol is a priority for the AFM in view of added border control responsibilities since Malta joined the EU, growing fishery protection duties and possible oil exploration, as well as rescue and illegal migration duties. Malta needed to replace the three aging Kondor offshore patrol craft but the money available was not enough for two large modern boats. So the question was whether to buy two smaller boats which could do some of the coastal patrol tasks all the time, or one large boat which could properly meet offshore patrol requirements most of the time, but would not be available for some time because of maintenance. Malta eventually opted for one large boat. A new 52-metrr offshore patrol vessel, built by Fincantieri and based on the Diciotti design, enterrf service. This offshore patrol vessel was acquired thanks to funding under the Italian financial protocol in a project which, with crew training included, cost Lm7 million.
Although, very often, search and rescue operations at sea become potentially dangerous particularly at night and in inclement weather, the members of the Maritime Squadron have time and again shown their dedication and commitment and also gone beyond their call of duty. Through the collective effort of its members, and with the support of other Units of the Armed Forces, the Maritime Squadron has saved many lives of persons finding themselves in distress at sea. The Maritime Squadron strives to ensure that its members are well trained for the tasks that they are required to execute. Periodic training with other Units of the Armed Forces of Malta as well as specialized training with foreign naval forces serve to ensure that its members are adequately prepared for the challenges that they face during the course of their duties.
Being an island nation strategically located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta has for millennia been the focal point of an ever growing volume of maritime traffic. In times of war this meant that control of the island was a pre-requisite to the control of the Mediterranean itself. In times of peace the location of Malta has shaped her role as a key link in the SAR services that cover the Mediterranean. Malta has developed into a popular tourist destination and is now also serving as a major cargo hub for the Euro-Mediterranean region. Developments in both maritime trade and the growing volume of passenger arrivals both by air and sea, as well as the greater accessibility of recreational boating to the population, have all contributed to making the airspace and sea-lanes around the Maltese Archipelago a very busy place.
Inevitably, all this has necessitated the development of a substantial Search and Rescue capability making the best use of modern technology. While the islands themselves represent only a miniscule landmass in comparison to other nations, the Maltese Search & Rescue Region (SRR) is vast, covering in excess of 250,000 square km. Within this area, Malta constantly strives to develop and maintain the capability to respond to an ever-widening array of emergencies ranging from medical evacuations off commercial vessels to the modern phenomenon of "migrants at sea" or asylum seekers.
The primary responsibility for the co-ordination of all SAR cases within the Maltese SRR lies with the Armed Forces Of Malta (AFM). To this end the AFM not only operates the Malta Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC), which is internationally recognised as the SAR Point of Contact in Malta, but also deploys maritime and air assets on a daily basis to respond to a variety of cases. The paucity of available resources compared to the area, which must be covered, has also been a prime factor why the AFM has become an expert in international liaison and multi-national operations. In fact, RCC Malta enjoys excellent working relations with neighbouring RCCs as well as with operational organisations as the Italian Navy and Coastguard and other navies in the Mediterranean and beyond.
The Malta Search and Rescue Training Centre (SARTC) of the Armed Forces of Malta is authorised to provide training to both local applicants and overseas applicants coming from the military and civilian agencies. English is the primary language of instruction at the Training Centre. Therefore, all applicants seeking admission must possess an adequate knowledge of written and spoken English as a prerequisite to admission. Students whose first language is not English are required to provide evidence that they have sufficient competence in written and spoken English to enable them to undertake their studies at the Training Centre. The minimum level required is Level 4 as per the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Proficiency Rating Scale.
Missions in rough seas can be considered as one of the worst working conditions that anyone may encounter, especially at night. Persons on watch cannot identify the sometimes enormous waves in front of them but must ‘feel’ their way through the sea as the craft climbs and descends waves. All too often, the odd wave manages to fool all and slams into the bow, sending a shockwave through the craft. In the most demanding of missions, up to three-quarters of a crew may be down with sea-sickness, whilr the fitter members are faced with excessively long watches in order to get the mission accomplished.
Yet, employment with the Maritime Squadron remains a career that fully quenches a thirst for adventure, where a certain degree of uncertainty prevails every time a patrol boat sets out to sea; and where hours of routine patrol can dramatically change into moments of intense action, often pushing personnel to their physical and mental limits.
On the 13 December 2008, Republic Day, the President, on behalf of the Government and people of Malta paid public tribute to the AFM Maritime Squadron by awarding them the Midalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika in recognition of the tough and demanding role they are carrying out on a daily basis on the country's borders.
On November 27, 2017 Fincantieri delivered Offshore Patrol Vessel P61 to the Armed Forces of Malta, following upgrading activities carried out at the Group’s drydocking facility within the Port of Genoa. The aim of the works, which lasted about 6 months, was to improve the reaction capability of the vessel. The upgrade included the installation of a new main propulsion plant, other machinery and equipment as well as the overhaul of most of the ship’s on board systems. Offshore Patrol Vessel P61 is over 53 meters long and was built and delivered by Fincantieri’s shipyard of Muggiano to the Armed Forces of Malta in 2005. It is a modified variant of the “Diciotti” Class Patrol Boat, built by Fincantieri for the Italian Coast Guard. The upgrading project was co-financed by the European Union Internal Security Fund.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|