The Armed Forces of Malta has awarded a contract to an Italian shipbuilder for the construction of its biggest patrol vessel to date.

The building of the new 75m offshore patrol vessel, which will have pennant number P71, will start in the coming weeks.

The vessel has been designed and is to be built to Maltese requirements by Cantiere Navale Vittoria. Commissioning is expected in the second half of next year. The project cost is some €35m, of which €26m will be contributed by the EU.

Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi, commander of the AFM, said the requirement was for a vessel with more endurance, better sea-keeping and better living conditions for the crew.

"Furthermore, we wanted this new Offshore Patrol Vessel to have improved life-cycle costs in order to ensure that its operations could be sustained in an efficient and effective manner along the years, including better fuel consumption and maintenance costs.” 

The new vessel will have a beam of 13m and a draught of 3.8m. Displacement will be 1,800 tons.

It will have two engines and two propellers and will be capable of operating and refuelling a helicopter from its flight deck, although it will not have a hangar.

The new patrol vessel will eventually replace the 65.2-metre former Irish Navy P62, which was handed to the AFM in 2015. 

The AFM's fleet also includes a 53-metre modified Diciotti class offshore patrol vessel with pennant number P61. It was delivered to the AFM in 2005 and two years ago underwent a €7 million refit including replacement of its engines.