The Maritime Troop of the Malta Land Force was established in November 1970. The first boats to operate were two ex-U.S. 'Swift Class' Patrol Craft which were used in an anti-contraband role, and served to improve co-ordination on marine related duties with the Police Force, Customs Authorities and Fisheries Department.
Two officers and twenty-five men were selected to undergo basic training prior to the arrival of the patrol craft. An elementary navigation course was organised at the Government Nautical School, Floriana, whilst instruction on marine engines was run by the government chief engineer.
January 1971 saw the arrival of the Patrol Craft together with a team of American Navy instructors. During the months that followed, officers and men were lectured on boat handling, general ship knowledge and navigation, amongst other subjects. On April 5th, 1971 the Patrol Craft were officially handed over to the Armed Forces of Malta by the then US Ambassador to Malta, Mr. J C Pritzlaff.
The two Mark III training boats were transferred to the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) in 1971 as part of the United States' military assistance program where they have been, and still continue after so many years, to be an important and integral part of that country's active interdiction and prosecution of the contraband and illegal immigration routes crossing the Mediteranean Sea from Africa to Southern Europe. They expected to be decommissioned at the end of begining of the year 2010, on the Maritime Squadron receiving four AUSTAL patrol boats, funded by the EU-external borders’ fund.
The tough little Swift boats have been well taken care of by the AFM Maritime Squadron’s seamen, and proudly and with great success continue the extremely useful tasks and traditions that were established by their US Navy antecedents. Since the early part of 1971, the AFM in the Mediterranean have used these two former US Navy Swift Boats to successfully accomplish the exact same tasks as those which were performed by their US Navy counterparts in South East Asia.
These Maltese Swifts are still on active duty today, performing routine patrols in cooperation with Italian and north African authorities to search for and interdict contraband and illegal aliens moving from the northern coast of Africa through Malta to the coasts of southern Europe.
In addition, they are used extensively for harbour security tasks in the many water ways of this our small tri-island nation, being the critical "first-on-the-scene" vessels during rescue at sea operations near the coastline, dangerous collateral functions such as disposal of un-exploded ordinance and explosives, and even at ceremonial events.
In July 1971, the Troop transformed into a Battery and became operational. The 1st (Maritime) Battery of the Malta Land Force was based in Senglea and consisted of a few soldiers under the command of Major J.H. Muscat.
In January 1972, the Federal Republic of Germany made available to the Maltese Government another three craft. Prior to taking over these ex-German Customs Launches, one officer and thirteen men went to Bremerhaven and Gluckstadt on familiarisation courses. On completion of the ten-week programme, the crews returned to Malta while the boats were shipped to Maltese harbours shortly afterwards.
In April 1973, the Battery took over another patrol boat, which was built by Malta Drydocks and was originally intended for use by the Customs Department. In the years 1975/1976, the Libyan Government donated four boats to the Battery, two built in Yugoslavia and two in Britain; thus bringing the total number of vessels to ten.
During the seventies, the duties of the 1st (Maritime) Battery were not as extensive as those performed today, as most operational tasks were still entrusted to the British Forces. However, with their departure from Malta in 1979, duties such as Search & Rescue fell entirely on the Maritime Battery. The official 'Search and Rescue' responsibility, handing/taking over ceremony took place at 1151 M.C.U. base in M'Xlokk on the 16th October, 1978 and included the presentation of two ex-RAF Rescue Launches.
Of all the aforementioned 'pioneer' craft, only the two 'Swift' boats are still operational, bearing pennant numbers P23 and P24 (originally C23 and C24). The rest have been decommissioned.
In October 1977, the Battery moved office to Hay Wharf, Floriana and on April 1st, 1980, the 1st (Maritime) Battery of the AFM was absorbed in the newly formed Task Force and renamed: MARITIME SQUADRON.
In 1982, following talks held in Malta between Prime Minister Dom Mintoff and the Yugoslav President of the Presidency Sergei Kraigher, Yugoslavia donated two patrol boats of the 'Kalnik Class'. The handing over ceremony took place in Dockyard Creek on Wednesday 31st March 1982, Malta's 'Freedom Day'
On the 11th May, 1988 the Task Force was amalgamated into the "Armed Forced of Malta" and the Maritime Squadron was inserted in the 1st Regiment, AFM.
On 12th February, 1991 the U.S. Ambassador to Malta, Mrs. Sally Novetzke presented two 19-metre craft previously used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the Squadron on behalf of the U.S.A.
On June 9th, 1992 the Squadron was augmented with three (3) boats of the Litoraneo Class (ex-Guardia di Finanza) from Italy.
In July 1992, a re-organisation programme for the Maltese Armed Forces was actuated. The new set-up required the Squadron to form part of the 2nd (Composite) Regiment, together with two other sub-units: the Air Squadron and the Air Defence Battery.
Another presentation ceremony was held on November 30th 1992. The Squadron's complement was again increased with two ex-GDR Bremse Class and two Kondor I Class vessels. Initial training on these boats was held in Neustadt, Germany between June and August 1992, and the 52 metre Kondor Vessels sailed to Malta, manned by 30 Officers and Men of the Maritime Squadron. The vessels covered some 3,000 nautical miles in an eighteen-day voyage, which included stops for re-fuelling and procurement of provisions from various countries along the route.
The Maritime Squadron, 2nd Regiment, AFM, is based at Hay Wharf, Floriana, having a current (Oct. 1998) total compliment of eight commissioned officers and 203 other ranks. Its logistic system is semi-independent, having a vast range of tradesmen and therefore facilitating repair work and maintenance of the patrol craft on the base itself. Workshops include those in the electronics, engineering, electrical and carpentry fields as well as the appropriate facilities for engine overhauls, anti-marine pollution equipment storage, weapons maintenance and others.
One may divide the craft into those intended for coastal patrols and those for offshore patrol purposes. The main differences being the vessel construction, firepower capabilities and crew accommodation facilities. Three coastal patrol vessels are presently in service with the Squadron and they are generally tasked to sail on a 12-hour patrol detail in Maltese Territorial Waters. These are:
|PATROL CRAFT||CLASS||COUNTRY OF ORIGIN|
|P 23||Swift||U.S.A. - to be decommissioned|
|P 24||Swift||U.S.A. - to be decommissioned|
|P 25||Equity||U.S.A. (sold)|
|P 26||Equity||U.S.A. (sold)|
|Melita I||Vittoria class SAR Boats||U.S.A.|
|Melita II||Vittoria Class SAR Boats||Italy|
Furthermore, the sub-unit consists of another two medium (P32 & P33) and three large (P29, P30 & P31) vessels which are able to conduct longer-range patrols. These are:
|PATROL CRAFT||CLASS||COUNTRY OF ORIGIN|
|P 01||Fast Interceptor Craft||Italy|
|P 29||Kondor I||Germany - unserviceable|
|P 30||Kondor I||Germany - unserviceable|
|P 31||Kondor I||Germany - sold|
|P 32||Bremse||Germany - scrapped|
|P 33||Bremse||Germany - for sale|
All the other patrol boats (P32 and P33 Bremse Class, and P23 and P24 US Swifts) will be decommissioned as soon as the new patrol boats (P21, P22, P23, P24) arrive from Australia and are regularly commissioned in early 2010. They were ready in October 2009 and after undergoing sea trials for certification, were shipped to Malta. One of these new patrol boats will be stationed in Gozo.
Ever since it's formation, the role of the Maritime Squadron hardly changed. The duties are vast and comprise of an amalgamated coast guard, customs, marine police, fisheries protection and search and rescue unit. Due to the small size of Malta, all such units are combined as one, with the product of a well experienced, professional and hardworking sea-going force.
Although the Maritime Squadron has not got the resources to defend the Maltese Territorial Waters against any large scale enemy invasion, the patrol boats' presence on the outer limits of our territorial jurisdiction does in fact reflect Malta's sovereign state.
These are the more prevalent duties performed by the Maritime Squadron. Such duties involve the control of illegal migrants, patrolling the territorial waters on anti-contraband operations, continuous surveillance for illegal drug trafficking, board and search operations onboard suspicious vessels as well as conducting spot checks to determine status of craft and their compliance with domestic and international laws. Duties also include the protection of the fisheries zone.
Such duties are mainly confined to the coastal regions, bays, ports and harbours, and are targeted at maintaining compliance with domestic and international 'rules of the road.' These may vary from the controlling of water sport activities, such as curtailing overspeeding and water-skiing in prohibited areas; to curbing illegal fishing activities within coves and bays indicated by special pillar stone markings (plieri). Other prevalent crimes include bird hunting at sea and fishing with the use of explosives. In all latter-mentioned cases, persons apprehended violating the law are escorted back to the mainland and handed over to Police Authorities for further questioning and eventual court proceedings.
Depending on the distance and time required to arrive in the area, Search & Rescue (SAR) Operations within the Malta Flight Information Region (FIR) are performed in conjunction with the Air Squadron. The more consistent rescue operations, however, take place near the coast and normally involve the rescue of swimmers in difficulty as well as conveying sick personnel from Gozo to Malta for specialised medical treatment.For this reason the Armed Forces of Malta were handed over 2 brand new SAR Motor Boats by the Civil Protection Department so that this Unit may carry out search and rescue operations by means of these boats which were named: Melita I and Melita II.
These two units were transferred to the AFM Maritime SAR Unit and are manned by AFM personnel.The building contract was awarded to Cantiere Navale Vittoria, Adria. These two boats were delivered to the department on 10th August 1998 and were previously moored near St. Angelo in Dockyard Creek. Special equipment was installed on board together with spare parts and other equipment which was separately shipped and delivered in August 1998 and was stationed at the CPD building at Hal Far.
These boats, which are self-righting, and could withstand heavy weather, are about 13m long and can develop a speed of about 33 knots. These are a modified and upgraded version of the twelve boats already built for the Italian Coast Guards and are also equipped at the Maltese Government's request with a small fire-fighting pump to extinguish fires on speed boats, cabin cruisers and small yachts, which are a common occurrence during the summer season. An elevated deck for increased visual range with connecting controls was also built on request.
The aforementioned tasks are augmented by numerous daily administrative calls for assistance, relating to combating hydrocarbons at sea which are frequently and irresponsibly bilged by vessels; towing service to civilian craft requiring assistance; conveyance of medical equipment and blood plasma between Malta and Gozo, occasional burials at sea; providing craft for tours to official foreign delegations, emergency conveyances of personnel to the sister island in inclement weather and countless other tasks which crop up from time to time at the requests of other Government Departments. The Squadron also performs many policing and law enforcement duties as regards to ship and boat safety standards and disposes of any floating hazards to safe navigation. Patrol boats often pay frequent visits in the vicinity of fish farms and desalination plant water inlets to ensure the safe manning of the latter.
Personnel and Training
Upon their posting to Maritime Squadron, all personnel commence their career serving a compulsory period as seamen so as to obtain the much-needed sea-going experience and be able to decide what future maritime-related trade speciality they intend to pursue. Having two main branches to choose from; that of Navigation and Seamanship, and Marine Engineering, they are all required to follow courses and qualify in the trade of their choice. Navigation and Boatswain courses are normally organised at the Government Nautical School where candidates qualify as Boatswains, Mates, Masters (Local) and later as Masters (Advanced, Class II and I). Courses for Engine Drivers, Engineers and Electricians are run either at the Squadron or at a Government Technical Institute. Similar courses are run for shore-based personnel who qualify as Marine Engine Fitters, Telecommunications Technicians, Electrical Fitters, Painters & Decorators, Armourers, Clerks, and so on. These trades require long term studies and courses at a government institution may take years to complete.
Hard work and perseverance enables each member of the Squadron to overcome the countless problems and dangerous encounters that are present daily. It is hoped, that the strong esprit de corps prevailing within the Squadron will continue, so that we may face the future with courage and the same determination as our predecessors have done before us.
On 14th November 2002, a Commissioning ceremony was held at the Headquarters of the AFM Maritime Unit, in Haywharf, Floriana for a brand new Patrol Boat Protector Class donated by the US Government to the AFM.
This patrol Boat is designed to accomodate a crew of 12 for a five day mission. The internal arrangements include four 2-man cabins, and one 4-man cabin, an office, separate galley and mess, two heads, two showers and a bridge with 200 square feet usable area and 360 degree visibility.
The Patrol Boat is capable of achieving a maximum continuous speed of 25 knots and has a patrolling speed of 10 knots. The most unique feature of the design is the RHIB and recovery system. This design includes a fixed ramp that is incorporation into the stern of the Patrol Boat and allows the RHIB to drive into the patrol boat whilst the latter is underway.
Relatives, friends and Armed Forces of Malta personnel on 7th September, 2004, gathered at Maritime Squadron's Haywharf Base in Floriana for a service in memory of the seven personnel lost in the 1984 patrol boat tragedy.
Patrol boat C-23 was on a dumping detail of illegally manufactured fireworks that tragic morning 20 years ago. It was a routine operation which followed the Police's find and seizure of the fireworks in the limits of Zabbar a day earlier. Bombardier Joseph Pace, 36 of Santa Venera; Gunner William Simpson, 36 of Lija; Private Anthony Vella, 20 of Ghajnsielem, Gozo; Police Sergeant Saviour Muscat, 30 of Birkirkara; and Police Constable Joseph Hare, 24 of Sliema, perished in the violent explosion on board the patrol boat, some two miles off Qala Point in Gozo.
The remains of 36-year-old Bombardier Francis Borg of Hamrun and 27-year-old Private Anthony Farrugia of Zejtun, were never found. Only Private Emmanuel Montesin, 21 of Paola, survived.
The following day, September 8, was declared a Day of National Mourning. The flag-draped coffins were carried together in a large military funeral attended by thousands of people and led by a Guard of Honour of what was then the Task Force. The flag-draped coffins were brought to Malta on patrol boats 'C-28' and 'C-29, and a funeral cortege left St Luke's Hospital. Thousands of people gathered to pay their last respects along the route as a Task Force AFM 48-men guard of honour, led by Captain Charles Mansueto, escorted their fallen comrades.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary, the AFM Commander, Brigadier Carmel Vassallo and the Police Commissioner, Mr. John Rizzo attended the Mass celebrated by the AFM Chaplain, Reverend Lawrence Zammit. Relatives of the deceased soldiers and policemen, including the sole survivor were also present. Wreaths were later laid at the foot of the monument erected at Haywharf in memory of the seven soldiers who perished in the line of duty.
Afterwards, the same Swift-class patrol boat (now re-designated 'P-23') and the Vittoria-class Search and Rescue (SAR) launch 'Melita 1' conveyed the relatives to the spot where the tragedy had unfolded. Flowers and wreaths were cast into the sea during a short service on board.
The 25th Anniversary of this tragedy, was also celebrated by a simbolic ceremony which took place at sea on the exact position where this patrol boat exploded and wreaths were laid in the area. A new Monument commemorating this tragedy was also unveiled by the Commander of the AFM, Bgr. Carmel Vassallo, together with the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joe Cachia.
The Armed Forces of Malta and the Police today are remembering the tragedy, 25 years ago today, when seven services personnel died in a fireworks explosion on a patrol boat off Comino.
Five soldiers and two policemen died when illegal fireworks which were about to be dumped into the sea exploded on the bow of the small patrol boat C-23. The sole survivor, despite being badly injured, managed to beach the craft on Comino.
The incident – the worst peace-time tragedy suffered by Maltese services personnel - claimed the life of:
Bombardier Joseph Pace, 36 of Santa Venera,
Gunner William Simpson, 36 of Lija,
Private Anthony Vella, 20 of Ghajnsielem, Gozo,
Police Sergeant Saviour Muscat, 30 of Birkirkara, and
Police Constable Joseph Hare, 24 of Sliema.
Also lost were: Bombardier Francis Borg, 36 of Hamrun and 27-year-old Private Anthony Farrugia of Zejtun, whose remains were never found.
This morning’s ceremony, at Haywharf, the AFM Maritime Squadron base, included Mass, the unveiling of a new memorial to replace a small one built soon after the event and a commemorative speech by the Commander of the AFM, Brig, Carmel Vassallo. The Last Post was sounded and a minute's silence was also observed.
The fireworks had been seized the previous day in the limits of Zabbar and were being carried on the deck of the patrol boat when the sudden explosion occurred. The cause was never conclusively established, although it is thought to have been a spark caused when a hatch was closed.
Private Emmanuel Montesin, 21 of Paola, survived the blast and managed to steer the patrol boat to Comino, where the alarm was raised.
The Swift-class patrol boat 'C-23' had been donated in the early 1970s by the United States government, and was one of the first craft to see the founding of the then Malta Land Force's Maritime Battery at Senglea. After the incident, the patrol boat was towed for repairs at the Malta Drydocks Manoel Island Shipyard. It was later re-entered into service with its new redesignation of 'P-23'.
Today this patrol craft still serves at the Maritime Squadron as testimony to those brave men who served on board. This patrol craft conducts inshore patrols, SAR missions, and maritime law and safety enforcement duties. P-23 will be decommissioned on the 18th March 2010, when another new Patrol Craft also designated as P-23 will take its honourable place to carry out the duties which this Swift Patrol craft so faithfully carried out for 40 years, with the Armed Forces of Malta.
The Swift patrol boat P-24 donated by the United States to the then Malta Land Force in 1971 is expected to head back to the U.S. this year to become a memorial. Patrol Craft P-24, along with P-23, is still in regular use by the AFM, the last in-service examples of the Swift class of inshore patrol boats built at the time of the Vietnam war.
The American Swift Boat Sailors' Association (SBSA) last year submitted a request through the U.S. embassy to be given one of the boats. P-23 and P-24 will be decomissioned in a few weeks time, along with a Bremse-class patrol boat. They will be replaced by the four brand new Austal class boats, built in Australia to AFM requirements and which arrived in Malta on a cargo ship last February. Their commissioning ceremony is expected to take place on 18th March 2010.
The SBSA would like one of the Swift boats to serve as a memorial to fallen sailors during operations in South-East Asia.
On its part, the AFM would like to retain Swift Patrol craft P-23 and possibly use it as 'gate-guard' for its Maritime Base at Haywharf. It would also serve as a memorial to the seven soldiers and policemen killed on board in a fireworks explosion, 25 years ago. P-23 will remain in Malta and will be conserved at Haywharf Maritime Base as a remembrance of the sterling service it gave to our country.
Fireworks have since no longer been carried on patrol boats. They are carried on towed barges.
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Last Modified: March 2010