THEY play a critical role in Britain’s military and security operations on the high seas both at home and abroad.

The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) small boats fleet supports vital advances and peacekeeping missions in every corner of the globe.

Now a Hampshire firm is spearheading a £111m scheme to modernise the flagship fleet of strategic vessels.

Berthon Boat Co Ltd is one of the six firms chosen by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to upgrade more than half of Britain’s 2,700 small boats.

The Lymington-based marine engineering company has been awarded a five-year contract to improve a collection of 1,450 vessels used by the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and MoD Police.

It follows an 18-month tendering process involving bidding from some of the marine industry’s top firms.

The chosen companies will provide maintenance and repairs for offshore raiding craft, pontoons up to 500 metres in length, police launches and Pacific 24 Ribs and inflatables used in operations across the globe.

No one from the company would confirm the nature of the work and whether it would create more jobs, due to the sensitive nature of the contract.

However, civic leaders welcomed the plans.

Cllr Seán Woodward, Hampshire County Council’s executive member for the economy, said: “This is fantastic news for the local area.

“South Hampshire is very well known for boat building and maintenance and this will help preserve jobs and hopefully increase them.”

Philip Dunne, Minister for Defence Equipment Support and Technology, said: “The award of these contracts provides the UK’s marine support industry with a steady volume of work, helping to maintain technical and engineering skills in this sector.

“The competition attracted interest from across the marine industry, and is another example of the MoD’s commitment to seek best value for money from the commercial market.”

Daily Echo:

Commercially supported shipping boats team leader Alistair Hughes, from the MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, said: “Small boats make up a critical component of the UK’s military effect, operating in the UK and globally.

“Small boats can be seen in all areas of maritime, from policing the UK’s naval bases to counter-piracy operations off Africa to training new recruits into the Royal Navy.

“The award of the contracts follows 18 months of intensive activity between the team and industry to ensure the continued support of the numerous craft that make up the small boat fleet and find the best deal for the armed forces.”

The other companies chosen are Devonport Royal Dockyard Ltd, UK Dock Tyne Slipway and Eng Co Ltd, MPI Services (UK) (trading as Manor Marine) and BAE Systems Surface Ships, based in Portsmouth.