The Opposition this morning called on Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia and Transport Malta CEO Jonathan Borg to commission an independent internal investigation into the agency’s tender for the purchase of five rigged-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) in the wake of a report by The Shift on Friday.
Such an investigation, Opposition Maritime Affairs spokesperson Ivan Castillo said, needs to determine how many times the €500,000 tender has been issued before the supplier who won the contract was chosen, why the vessels remained in use although problems had been found by surveyors and why they continue to be used.
The Shift reported on Friday that one of the five new RHIBs Transport Malta purchased for its maritime enforcement section has already been declared to no longer be seaworthy and needs to be scrapped, while the other four were found to have developed serious structural problems.
But despite technical reports on the state of the vessels having sounded alarm bells, Transport Malta is still using them for its enforcement patrols.
Transport Malta enforcement officers who spoke to The Shift on condition of anonymity said that both Minister Aaron Farrugia and Transport Malta CEO Jonathan Borg were made aware of these problems a long time ago but to no avail. Farrugia and Borg were also informed that some of the RHIBs were also operating for months with expired licences and registration.
The Nationalist Party accused Transport Malta of “forcing workers to continue using these unregistered, unlicensed and unseaworthy vessels” even though they brought their concerns to the attention of the officials shortly after they were bought and after a damning surveyor’s report, extracts of which were published by The Shift on Friday.
The purchase was made on the watch of then-transport minister Ian Borg in July 2021.
The Shift is informed they were supplied by an importer from Rabat, Borg’s electoral district, and that they had to be refitted since they were not up to Transport Malta’s standards, which significantly increased their price tag.
According to Castillo, the RHIBs were forced to remain in operation despite the problems surveyors found so as to increase the boats’ operational hours at sea so the tender could not be revoked as per the contract’s specifications.
“It is unacceptable that the government continues to burn public funds without taking responsibility for its actions that can now be proven. It is even less acceptable that [Transport Malta] officials forced the maritime enforcement officers to use these vessels, which is putting their lives at risk while also creating a danger to the public at large.”
The matter, the Opposition said, is also being investigated by the National Audit Office.
The Shift reported how during an inspection a year after their purchase by a surveyor from a private company, structural damage was found on two of the boats that rendered them unusable.
“The extent of damage seen on ER1 (one of the RHIBs) is deemed to be major,” the surveyor found.
“It is strongly advised for ER1 to be placed out of service. The craft’s primary hull structure has been heavily compromised and is no longer deemed seaworthy,” according to the report.
“Similar instances of damage are being noted on ER2 (another RHIB). Continued use of this unit will inevitably lead to the same degree of damages seen on ER1,” it was noted.
While problems were also noted on the other RHIBs, according to the surveyor, ER2 was to be used in a limited way and only in good weather.
The issue was also highlighted recently by independent politician Arnold Cassola.
Castillo added, “These vessels were bought with public funds and the public deserves to get what they paid for.
“The Nationalist Party wants to ensure they are in compliance with every specification of the tender before they are paid for and used at sea and that if they are not in compliance with the offer, all necessary action will be taken according to the tender’s conditions.”