Prime minister Robert Abela did not answer questions about why he misled parliament last year by citing incorrect figures on the expenditure and expected completion date for the Armed Forces of Malta’s (AFM) P71 vessel.
The Shift has revealed that what was meant to be the AFM’s “flagship” offshore patrol vessel has still not been delivered two years after its deadline and is so far €13.9 million over budget.
When answering a parliamentary question in 2021, the prime minister cited the project’s original budget and deadline – the project was meant to cost €34.7 million and was supposed to start in 2016 and finished by 2020.
Yet, in an edition of the Government Gazette published in March 2020 – a year before the prime minister addressed parliamentary questions on the matter – shows that the contract for the design, construction, testing, commissioning and delivery of PV71 cost taxpayers a total of €48.6 million.
The fact that the vessel was over budget was already public information when the prime minister delivered the wrong figures to parliament.
Questions sent to the prime minister’s office and the home affairs ministry remain unanswered.
No answers were received as to why the AFM designed a vessel that its own infrastructure could not cater for, given that the electrical supply at the army’s base, Haywharf, had to be upgraded to cater for the P71 at an extra cost of €498,515.
The government also remained silent on why Cantiere Navale Vittoria SpA, which had never built a vessel of 70m or over, was selected as the winning bidder for the contract, nor why the AFM built a hospital facility on the P71 when the armed forces do not have specialised medic units that can adequately staff it.
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 even though 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 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. They returned empty-handed.