In a ceremony on board the ship before it left port, German Defence Minister Franz-Josef Jung wished the 235 saliors on board success in their year-long mission to make the waters in the Indian Ocean safe from pirates who have been plaguing travel and shipping in the region.
The German warship is joining marine forces from at least seven other European countries in the anti-piracy operation dubbed “Atalanta,” which kicked off at the beginning of this month. While the mission is primarily aimed at guarding boats carrying aid to Somali ports, the presence of the ships is expected to deter pirate attacks on other sea traffic through the Gulf of Aden.
Jung stressed in his remarks during the ceremony that the German saliors and marines had a “robust” mandate, meaning they will be able to shoot at pirates, detain them and use force to free hostages if other methods of deterrence fail.
The mission, approved by the German parliament on Friday, allows Germany to send up to 1,400 military personnel to the region.
While the “Karlsruhe” sailors will not be spending Christmas with their families, they had done what they could to bring the holiday on board. A two-metre Christmas tree had been set up next to the radio mast and a small artificial tree with a string of lights brightened up the helicopter hangar.
“We wanted to create at least a little Christmas spirit,” said Hans-Joachim Kuhfahl, the ship’s commander. Despite temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius, he said that a nativity scene would also be set up, “if the operational situation allows it.”
In fact, German soldiers could well be busy facing down pirates over the next few days instead of setting up a manger. Attacks by pirates in the region have exploded in 2009. According to one officer at the launch, around 250 piracy incidents have been reported this year. Statistics show around 48 of them were considered “successful,” that is, boat and crew were seized and only released after a ransom was paid.
“We believe that from January to October alone, some $65 million has been paid in ransom money,” said Vice-Admiral Hans-Joachim Stricker, commander of the German fleet. Experts say the actual number could be much higher.
If German soldiers do encounter pirates, they will send them a “serious signal,” according to Captain Kuhfahl. Sailors pointed to a 76-millimeter gun on board that they are confident will give pirates something to think about should it be fired across their bow.
The mandate allows for pirates to be captured if necessary, and they could be kept on board temporarily before possibly being put on trial in Africa. If it is ruled that the pirates have threatened German interests, they can be handed over to German federal police stationed in Djibouti and sent to Hamburg for trial.