The Estonian Navy (Merevägi) took delivery of two new, Saaremaa-built force protection vessels Thursday, the first ships built to order for the navy since the restoration of independence in 1991.

A launch ceremony took place Thursday at Nasva Harbor, Saaremaa, to mark the official handover of the two vessels, the ENS Risto and the ENS Roland, built by Baltic Workboats AS (BWB), to the navy.

The ships have a “godmother” each, Henrieth Kampmann and Meribell Rüüte, from the Kodutütred, the girls’ arm of the volunteer Defense League.

Defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) said via a National Defence Investments Centre (RKIK) press release that: “I am confident that the islanders’ boats are among the best in their class in the world, and it is vital that one of the navy’s critical capability gaps has now been filled. It is also significant that the procurement of the boats helps to support Estonian business at a very critical economic time.”

Luik said the two vessels, which are due to enter service in 2021, came at an optimal price (€3.9 million together) and were state-of-the-art, being also suitable for use in civil crises if necessary.

Estonia as a NATO member has a duty to ensure protection for visiting alliance warships, both in “blue water” and “green water” naval scenarios, which smaller craft such as the new ships, full crewed and with compatible communications and small caliber armaments are ideal for this purpose, the RKIK says.

The Merevägi marked the occasion on its social media page as well: “Today, the Navy launched two brand new vessels. The main task of the ships is to ensure the military protection of warships of allies and partners visiting Estonia at sea and in ports, but these are vessels which can also be used for many other purposes, including to create maritime situational awareness and to train naval personnel.”

The vessels’ shallow draughts and maneuverability make them ideal for their role, and plug a capability gap which had existed before, Commander of the Navy Cdre. Jüri Saska said.

Cdre. Saska added that: “So far, scope for this had been limited, since the existing vessels could not be accommodated in most smaller port areas.”

The vessels are at the same time more sustainable than smaller, rigid-inflatable-type boats used previously, which will also help make savings, the RKIK says.

Procurement returns money to Estonia, raises domestic defense industry profile

The RKIK added that the procurement process mirrored that of other European nations in returning money to Estonia’s own economy, by using a domestic supplier, and (in so doing) contributed greatly both to sustainable development of the domestic defense industry, and boosting that industry’s international image.

Asko Kivinuk, head of the RKIK’s airforce and navy department, said: “Market research revealed that Estonia has the capability of building launches on site, certainly one of the best in this class of launch in terms of their features and price-tag, both in Europe and elsewhere in the world.”

The two vessels’ construction took about eight months, compared with the normal 12-16 months’ lead time for ships of that kind, Kivinuk added, demonstrating Estonian shipbuilders’ competence and opening up potential for the future.

“Without a domestic reference point, access to this market would have been almost impossible,” added Kivinuk.

Other roles the force protection vessels can take on include securing firing exercise zones at sea, for navigation practice for cadets, and cooperating with other state agencies, such as the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and its maritime division.

BWB specializes in the construction of working and patrol ships, and has been operating in the market for over 20 years.

The company has made and sold over 200 vessels to markets in several European countries, including Sweden, Belgium, Germany and the U.K., as well as for the Omani police, who have 14 ships for port security duties.

BWB has also built more than 10 vessels for the PPA, and will ensure after-sales maintenance of the two Merevägi ships as well.

The vessels have maximum speed of over 30 knots.

Other features of the force protection vessels include a wave cutting bow which can withstand waves of up to 2-3 meters while on operation, and other extreme weather conditions, and its design also engenders greater fuel efficiency (savings of up to 10-15 percent), higher speeds and acceleration than other similar-class vessels (25-54 percent faster, depending on conditions) – obviously an advantage in quick response activities, as well as lower noise levels, which is less taxing on crews, and can turn a full 360 degrees with as much as a 60 percent smaller radius than similar vessels, BWB says.

The ships are 18 metrers in length, have partial ballistic protection and are equipped with x2 12.7 mm heavy machine guns, and have a remote-controlled weapon position, the RKIK says.

The Merevägi’s fleet to the present had centered on its several British- and Danish-built mine-hunters. The navy’s flagship is the ENS Admiral Cowan.

The Merevägi also takes an active part in the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCG1).