POLICE chiefs are splashing out £1.2m on a fleet of boats to protect Hampshire’s coastline, the Daily Echo can reveal.

Four new vessels will be brought into service this summer to help the marine unit conduct counter-terrorism work, protect the county’s naval port and carry out patrols during the Olympics.

They will be partially paid for by a Government grant of £500,000 – but the force, striving to save £50m by 2015 through shedding jobs and closing police stations, will pay £700,000 from its budget.

The new vessels include a launch, a catamaran and two 7.5m Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) which will be used for counter-terrorism work, serious and organised crime operations, searching and policing around the Solent.

The existing vessels – three Mitchell 31 launches, Mariner I, II and III – will be decommissioned and sold, with the money used to offset the upgrade costs.

The force’s 7.5m RIB, Mariner V, has already been sold to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was due an engine replacement and replacing it was seen as more cost effective.

John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, which represents the county’s officers, said: “With the continuing threat of terrorism, the naval ports and the Olympics, now is a good time to invest if we had the money available.

“In these current difficult financial times, when every penny counts, I am sure that the constabulary have made the decision based on need rather than an expensive wish list.”

Det Insp Dave Jackson, from Hampshire Constabulary’s Marine Unit, said: “We have a duty to protect all maritime vessels in our waters and when you consider the British cruise industry is largely based in Southampton, and the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, the equipment we use to police it needs to be fit for purpose.

“Our three launches were commissioned in 2001 and had a workable life of about ten years before we’d need to start investing in terms of repairs.

“Mariner V will soon need its engine replaced so it will be a lot more economical to replace the vessels and ensure effective maritime policing resources until 2022 than fork out to keep fixing the existing craft at great expense.”