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30 years since the patrol boat tragedy

The Armed Forces of Malta today issued a set of photographs to recall the tragic fireworks explosion which killed five soldiers and two policemen on board a patrol boat exactly 30 years ago.

The explosion took place on the bow of C23 some two miles off Qala Point in Gozo. The crew were about to dump at sea illegal fireworks found near Zabbar a day earlier.

The victims were Bombardier Joseph Pace, 36 of Santa Venera; Gunner William Simpson, 36 of Lija; Private Anthony Vella, 20 of Ghajnsielem, Gozo; Bombardier Francis Borg, 36 of Hamrun, Private Anthony Farrugia, 27 of Zejtun, Police Sergeant Saviour Muscat, 30 of Birkirkara and Constable Joseph Hare, 24 of Sliema.

The remains of Bdr Borg and Private Farrugia were never found.

The sole survivor was Private Emmanuel Montesin, 21 of Paola, who despite being injured managed to beach the patrol boat on a beach in Comino and raise the alarm. 

The cause of the explosion was never conclusively established, although it is thought to have been a spark caused when a hatch was closed.  

Fireworks have since no longer been carried on patrol boats. Towed barges are used instead. 

The patrol boat was towed to Malta Drydocks where its bow was rebuilt. It was  returned to service as 'P-23'.

The vessel was withdrawn two years ago and is to be placed as a ‘gate-guard’ at the AFM Maritime Base as a memorial to the victims.

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