[WATCH] Maritime Squadron in search and rescue exercise

AFM’s Maritime Squadron conduct SAR operation, showcasing the squadron’s latest equipment.

Part of the Maritime's Squadron exercise this morning.
Part of the Maritime's Squadron exercise this morning.

The Armed Forces of Malta Maritime Squadron this morning conducted a simulation air, land and sea search and rescue operation, led by the squadron's Commanding Officer Lt Col Wallace Camilleri.

The exercise involved the squadron's flagship P61 offshore patrol vessel, a number of rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs), an Alhoutte helicopter, and Islander aircraft, and last but not least Melita II - an SAR launch (which could withstand heavy weather conditions). Personnel from the air, sea and ground units within the squadron helped set up and execute the mock rescue operation. During the search process, squadron personnel were assigned the task of locating a number of refugees lost at sea. Once located, the refugees were transferred on board the Melita II, only to be transferred to a nearby hospital within minutes. Both the Islander and Alhouette helicopter could be seen hovering on top of the sea craft during the operation which lasted just under 30 minutes.

The Maritime Squadron today comprises a team of 333 men but the squadron can also boast of a group of 24 elite soldiers - the Rapid Deployment Platoon, who conduct special boarding techniques both by air and sea and who have also been deployed to counter piracy threats and execute other duties overseas.

The aim of this morning's exercise was to display the squadron's latest massive investment in the latest technology and equipment, partly financed by the European Union.

"Today we have showcased assets of the Armed Forces of Malta that have been acquired or upgraded under the General Programme Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows (2007-2013)," AFM Procurement and Logistic Col. David Mifsud told members of the press present, who were also invited to board the P61 and witness the exercise out at sea.

The General Programme Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows is designed to improve management of migratory flows at a level of the EU and to strengthen solidarity between Member States. It has four dimensions: the integrated management of external borders, asylum policy, social, civic and cultural integration of non-EU member country nationals and the fight against illegal immigration, and the return of non-EU member country nationals residing illegally in the EU.

In general the programme part-finances assistance of various forms, starting from the very border of the country, into detention or open centres in case of asylum seekers or refugees as well as in various other public institutions in relation to all target groups.

The total amount allocated by the European Union to Malta between 2007 and 2013 for the RF amounts to 4,490,600 euros.

Last year saw the SAR boats undergo a total overhaul, in line with today's standards - a project which was partly funded by the EU. Both the Alhouette helicopter and Islander aircraft were upgraded while the P51 and P52 were fitted with night vision and thermal imaging equipment. A hangar was also built to host and support the aircraft while the squadron invested in two KingAir helicopters and a number of inshore patrol boats.

The squadron will soon have a number of RHIBS joining its fleet, purchased from Finland through a tendering process.

Among those present on board the P61, was Ministry of Home Affairs parliamentary assistant Beppe Fenech Adami who stated that it was vital for Armed Forces personnel to have the latest tools to perform search and rescue operations on the lines of this morning's simulation.

In a recent interview, Commander Camilleri had told MaltaToday that the squadron achieved various milestones over the years, but a memorable one was when the squadron was awarded the Midalja ghall-Qlubija and the Midalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika (a medal for bravery) for its sterling work back in 2008 when it dealt with the influx of migrants, proudly adding that "generally, the award is presented to an individual but in this case it was awarded to a group - the Maritime Squadron".

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