A €49 million misfire: AFM’s P71 vessel two years late, €13.9 million over budget

Former Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi had personally appointed an officer as project coordinator


An offshore patrol vessel commissioned by the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), the P71, is two years past its deadline and €13.9 million over its original budget, The Shift has learned.

The P71, a 75m vessel designed by Cantiere Navale Vittoria SpA in Italy, cost taxpayers a total of €48.6 million, according to Government Gazette records.

Data submitted to parliament, however, shows that the project’s original budget was €34.7 million, 53.5% of which was co-financed through the EU’s Internal Security Fund.

The tender for the design, construction, testing, commissioning and delivery of the AFM’s new offshore patrol vessel was issued in 2016. Former AFM commander Jeffrey Curmi appointed a soldier from the maritime squadron to take charge of the design and tender stage of the project – AFM major Russell Caruana. In March 2021, Curmi ‘launched’ the vessel in an inauguration ceremony.

While the project was supposed to be finished by 2020, it remains a work in progress two years later while Curmi has moved on to greener pastures at Transport Malta with an annual salary of €115,000, The Shift revealed.

The P71 was still undergoing “tests at sea” on 20 July, according to the Facebook page of Cantiere Navale Vittoria SpA,. Informed sources told The Shift that an AFM crew went to the port of Chioggia towards the end of May, where the vessel is being temporarily held, to receive basic training and bring the P71 home.

The same sources confirmed that the crew returned empty-handed a couple of weeks later, and that the vessel was remanded for further testing for reasons which remained unconfirmed at the time of writing.

Cantiere Navale Vittoria SpA and the American Bureau of Shipping, the entity carrying out certification inspections on the vessel after its build was finished, did not answer questions from The Shift about the vessel.

“Cantiere Navale Vittoria S.p.A. is contractually prohibited from disclosing any information concerning the construction of the OPV P71, which is a matter of military security.  Therefore, Cantiere Navale Vittoria S.p.A. is not in a position to answer your questions,” the contractor said.

“Cantiere Navale Vittoria S.p.A. continues to work closely with the Armed Forces of Malta and is fully committed to delivering OPV P71 in accordance with the terms, conditions and obligations of the public contract. As the sea trials draw to an end, Cantiere Navale Vittoria S.p.A. looks forward to delivering to the Armed Force of Malta its flagship, the OPV P71,” they added.

Questions have also been sent to the home affairs ministry asking for explanations as to why the project was €13.9 million over budget and two years late.

For perspective, financial estimates for the 2022 Budget show that the entire AFM was allocated €69.2 million to pay its salaries, operational and maintenance expenses, and fund its programmes and initiatives for an entire year.

When asked about the massive cost incurred by taxpayers to finance the ship, sources with military expertise also flagged issues with the expensive, questionable add-ons that were stipulated in the criteria of the original tender document and the additional costs incurred as a result.

Towards the beginning of the process, the AFM engaged an external consultant, Epsilon Malta Ltd, to assist with the procurement of the vessel, an extra €40,000.

Due to the vessel’s size and specifications, the AFM’s maritime base at Haywharf also needed to be modified. Two tenders for upgrades on the electrical supply at Haywharf were issued.

These two tenders, issued in 2021 and 2022, cost taxpayers €498,515. Questions on this matter have also been sent to the home affairs ministry.

One source familiar with the operations at Haywharf also said the vessel, given its 75m length, may encounter difficulties navigating the tight entry-point at Msida, which is adjacent to the marina.

When asked to explain the costs incurred, sources pointed towards the inclusion of a Role 2 medical facility on-board as well as a 7,000kg helicopter deck, both of which were included in the specifications of the tender.

“A Role 2 medical facility is basically a hospital. It’s equipped for full resuscitation and carries all related equipment. However, the AFM does not have any personnel that are trained in those skills,” the source explained.

“The AFM’s doctors are GPs – they’re not specialists, and there aren’t any anaesthetists or life support doctors. The second thing is that I do not know of any vessel of that size which has a Role 2 medical facility; the HMS Queen Elizabeth, for example, is an aircraft carrier that has a Role 2 medical facility,” they added.

Main photo: the HMS Queen Elizabeth, an aircraft carrier. Inset: the P71, an offshore patrol vessel.

The source explained that such a medical facility would also radically increase long-term costs because of the need to replace and maintain expensive equipment.

As for the helicopter landing zone, the specification for a deck that can withstand the weight of a 7,000kg seems to have been based on the fact that the AFM uses a model known as the Agusta Westland 139, whose weight is usually around that mark.

However, sources noted that the same helicopters do not have the right undercarriage to be able to land on such a vessel – the need for a deck tailor-made for the Agusta Westland 139 model is unclear.

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Paul Pullicino
Paul Pullicino
6 hours ago

“Grandpa, what’s the national debt made out of?” asks Johnny. Grandpa replies “Corruption, waste, incompetence, ego tripping, vote buying, kickbacks on shady deals, fake public jobs for extended family members, a bloated parliament of fools, circuses and diversion.”

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
3 hours ago

Cantieri Navali Vittoria:- “…fully committed to delivering OPV P71 in accordance with the terms, conditions and obligations of the public contract”

BUT:- “Vessel P71 two years late, Euro 13,9 million over Budget” – Headline.

(40% miscalculation and two years less in foreseen operations).

How come? Please explain, to Maltese taxpayers and to the EU funding people, what went wrong, where, and why!

Francis Said
Francis Said
3 hours ago

As usual taxpayers’ funds used badly and the necessary expertise non existent.
The Finance Minister notwithstanding his directive to reduce expenditure by €200 million seems to have no effect.
No problem the National debt will continue to increase, uncontrollably until the economic bubble bursts in our face with a huge explosion of gunk. Same as our infrastructure, which is stretched well beyond it’s limits.

33 minutes ago

Does it float?

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