Tunisia commissions first locally-built warship


The Tunisian Navy has commissioned its first locally-built patrol boat, the product of a partnership between the government local private shipbuilding company SCIN.

According to media reports from Tunisia, the boat, Al Istiklal (Independence), was launched by defence minister Farhat Horchani at a ceremony held in the Gulf of Tunis on 21 August.

Addressing guests who witnessed the launch, Horchani said the boat which was entirely built by Tunisian engineers. He said Tunisia is the first country to develop a successful shipbuilding industry in the Arab world and the second in Africa after South Africa.

He said the government partnered with local company Societe de Construction Industrielle et Navale (SCIN) based in Sfax to start the construction of the boat in March 2013, which was handed over to the defence ministry in July this year. President Beji Caid Essebsi as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces on 7 August headed a flag raising ceremony for the vessel. The inauguration ceremony was attended by Ministers of Defence, Interior, Industry, Energy and Mining as well as the Chief of Staff of the naval forces, the President of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) and the Director General of the shipbuilding complex.

Horchani said the ship-building partnership hopes to build and export more patrol boats to several African and Middle Eastern countries which have already expressed interest in acquiring Tunisian-built navy vessels after learning about the success of the initial project.

According to the minister, localising the construction of the patrol boat resulted in a vessel 40% cheaper than if it had been acquired from the international market.

He said the country is in the process of modernising the legal framework of public-private ship-building partnerships to promote the construction and export of more military vessels, adding that this will create more jobs and allow for skills development in the industry.

The 80 ton boat measures 26.5 metres in length and is 5.8 metres wide. It is powered by two Rolls-Royce engines, each of which produces 3 200 horsepower, giving a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 600 nautical miles. Its armament include a 20 mm cannon and two machineguns and it can accommodate a crew of up to 12 sailors. It is also fitted with a thermal imaging camera.

Officials said that although Al Istiklal took two years to manufacture, future patrol boats would only take eight months. Future production is aimed at the Tunisian Navy, coast guard and customs service.

The Tunisian armed forces have embarked on a modernisation and re-equipment programme which has seen the acquisition of new patrol boats, aircraft and military vehicles since the pro-democracy uprising which toppled the government of former President Ben Ali in 2011.

Like many other North African countries, Tunisia is struggling to secure the country against new jihadist militant groups, some of which are allied to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In April, the Tunisian Navy received the first of four 20-metre-long patrol boats from the United States navy and three more will be delivered by the end of 2016.

According to the US embassy in Tunisia, 22 patrol boats have been delivered to the country since 2013 in terms of a strategic security alliance which is aimed at helping the country defend itself against the rising tide of regional security turmoil spawned by the chaotic civil war in neighbouring Libya.

In addition, the US has delivered 52 Humvees and a number of aircraft, which include Black Hawk helicopters to help secure the country and maintain its progress towards democratic and accountable governance.