The United States government has donated a second Protector Class patrol boat, P52, to the Armed Forces of Malta.

The state-of-the-art vessel was signed over from the American embassy to the AFM at a ceremony held at the Maritime Squadron's headquarters at Hay Wharf yesterday morning. The patrol boat was presented by Thomas M. Murphy, the embassy's chargé d'affaires.

Mr Murphy said it was an honour for the US government to assist Malta with its donations and support. "The islands are in a strategic position and play a vital role in search and rescue operations in the area, as well as in providing security in the region," he said.

The AFM's Maritime Squadron, established in December 1970, has 10 officers and 190 other ranks. The squadron is mainly concerned with enforcing the law as regards smuggling, illegal immigrants, narcotics and monitoring maritime traffic. It also plays an important role in the coordination of search and rescue operations.

P52 comes in conjunction with the current modernisation of the squadron base, which includes the building of a new jetty.

The new addition to the fleet is identical to the first $5 million Protector Class patrol boat donated by the US government to the Maltese forces in November 2002. That boat was christened P51, having been the 51st boat of its kind built by Bollinger Shipyards Inc., the Louisiana builders that had made another 50 identical protector boats for the US Coastguard.

The new boat comes with two 1,500 horse-power diesel engines, an on-board reverse osmosis system and dispatchable rubber dinghy. It can reach around 27 knots at full speed and a patrol speed of 10 knots. The 87-foot long vessel is designed to accommodate a crew of 12 for a five-day mission.

Internal arrangements include four two-man cabins and one four-man cabin, an office, a separate galley and mess.

A unique feature on the P51 and P52 is the fixed ramp incorporated at the stern that allows an advanced rubber dinghy to drive up into the patrol boat from the sea while it is underway.

AFM personnel operating on P51 and P52 underwent special training in the US with the US Coastguard and at Bollinger Shipyard Inc.

Tony Abela, the Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, described the donation as a show of friendship between the two countries.

A senior representative of Bollinger, who was present for the ceremony, spent one-and-a-half years researching and then supervising the construction of the boat specifically for the AFM.

AFM Commander Brigadier Carmel Vassallo thanked the US government for the donation, which he described as yet another proof of its commitment to help the Maltese armed forces.

"The United States' assistance was fundamental when the Maritime Squadron was set up 33 years ago, when Swift class Inshore boats were donated to Malta by the US government," Brig. Vassallo recalled.

The American government had supported the AFM in the setting up of a training centre for Maltese and foreign military and civilian personnel specialising in the coordination of search and rescue missions, based at Safi Barracks.

The US had also helped the AFM set up the fixed wing section of the Air Squadron with a donation of small aircraft to the Maltese forces, Brig. Vassallo said.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said in reply to a parliamentary question last week that the Maritime Squadron has five serviceable patrol boats along with two search and rescue launches.

He said two of the large Kondor-type patrol boats (former East German navy vessels bought after the reunification of Germany) are no longer serviceable. One is about to be sold and the other will also eventually be sold. The third one is operational under certain conditions. The AFM is to take delivery of a larger (Italian-built) patrol boat next year.

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