As two long-serving members of the Armed Forces of Malta’s OPV fleet prepare for retirement, the island has welcomed a larger, modern replacement to conduct surveillance and SAR tasks in the Central Mediterranean
March saw Italian shipbuilder and designer Cantiere Navale Vittoria witness the commissioning of its largest offshore patrol vessel (OPV) to date in the form of P71 – a 75m behemoth that’s been described as the new flagship of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM). Designed for coastal and high seas surveillance and search and rescue (SAR) operations within the Central Mediterranean, the vessel was launched in early 2021 and delivered to Malta in November 2022.
P71 was ordered at a reported cost of approximately €48.6 million (US$54 million), Vittoria having secured the contract in 2019 through its participation in a public tender raised by Malta’s Ministry of Defence, and part-funded by the EU. The newbuild effectively replaces the 53.4m-long P61, which has served the AFM since 2005, and which will now retire alongside the AFM’s 1979-built, 65m-long stalwart P62.
The arrival of the larger P71 also suggests a new chapter in the relationship between Vittoria and the AFM, and further, similar newbuilds are expected to follow in due course. Speaking at the OPV’s March commissioning ceremony, hosted at the AFM naval base in the Maltese capital of Valletta, Vittoria president Luigi Duò said that P71 would come to “represent an international point of reference for units of the same type”.
Featuring a full load displacement of more than 2,000tonnes, plus a 3.8m draught, P71 can accommodate “a crew of nearly 50” and an additional 20 personnel, Vittoria says.
The vessel’s bridge has been elevated to grant the crew 360° visibility, and is fifted with ballistic protection, including protected side passages for persons on the main deck and around the same bridge. On the offensive, P71 is also equipped with a 25mm remotely controlled cannon and light machine guns “of varying calibre”, Vittoria confirms.
The ship’s aft flight deck accommodates a telescopic hangar and features equipment to support day and night flights. This deck can be used to refuel helicopters of up to 7tonnes – one example being the AgustaWestland AW139, as used by the AFM. Hatches have been built into the flight deck, and these permit a service crane, positioned on the side of the vessel, to load and unload materials between the flight deck and the deck below.
P71 carries a pair of 9.1m RIBs, which it can launch to undertake search and rescue (SAR) and maritime traffic control operations. The first RIB launch/recovery ramp is situated aft, below the flight deck, an area that includes additional space for materials and personnel. The second RIB launch/recovery area, featuring a motion-compensated davit, is situated starboard amidships, and has the capability to launch the RIB even when the OPV is underway. Each RIB can attain a speed in excess of 40knots.
The boat’s twin medium-speed diesel engines are rated 5,440kW apiece, and drive variable-pitch propellers. Running on diesel power, the ship will typically transit at more than 20knots when fully laden.
Alternatively, Vittoria points out, P71 can transit at patrol speeds between 9knots and 12knots+ when employing its two electric motors, which are powered by 750kW generators. “This diesel-electric solution at patrol speed allows greater efficiency, reduced consumption and, above all, lower harmful emissions for the most widely used speed spectrum of the unit,” Vittoria claims. P71 is also fitted with transverse bow and stern thrusters, along with retractable active stabilising fins.
The OPV’s integrated command, control and navigation system includes a 2D surveillance radar, a navigation radar and state-of-the-art satcomms, Vittoria adds.
Draught : 3.8m
Displacement: 2,000tonnes+ (full load)
Cruising speed: 12knots
Max speed: 40knots+ (diesel mode)
Additional personnel: 20
Classification society: ABS