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Death on navy ship sparked 'mutiny'

The Local · 20 Jan 2011, 08:08

Published: 20 Jan 2011 08:08 GMT+01:00

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An investigation by Hellmut Königshaus, parliament’s liaison to the military, found that the crew rebelled and refused to climb the rigging of the historic navy ship after one of their comrades, 25-year-old Sarah S., fell 27 metres to her death last November.

Königshaus' investigation of the Gorch Fock incident and its aftermath has painted a grim picture, meanwhile, of the standard of training on the ship, according to various media reports late on Wednesday.

The Gorch Fock is a traditional ship used by the navy to train prospective officers. The young sailor from Lower Saxony fell during a climbing exercise while the ship was docked at the Brazilian port of Salvador de Bahia, crashing from the vessel’s rigging onto the deck and dying of her injuries in a nearby hospital.

In a letter to the defence committee of the parliament, Königshaus wrote that many of the officer cadets “did not want to go aloft after the painful loss of their comrade and others did not want to continue on the Gorch Fock,” daily Bild reported.

Quarrels broke out on the ship. The commander of the Gorch Fock, Norbert Schatz, accused four cadets of “a lack of co-operation with the ship’s command” and said these four should be flown back to Germany on the grounds of “mutiny and inciting the crew.”

Several days later, the command decided that the entire crew of 70 officer cadets, and not just the original four agitators, should be returned to Germany.

It was known that the crew was flown back to Germany in November but the drama behind that decision has only now come to light.

Schatz later said of the crew’s unwillingness to climb the rigging: “As a boy I used to climb cherry trees in our neighbour’s garden and was always down again quick enough when he came out. Motor skills have dropped – youngsters don’t sit in cherry trees anymore but rather in front of computers.”

Story continues below…

Königshaus wrote in his letter there had been “great pressure” on cadets to climb the rigging.

“If you don’t go up, you’ll fly home the next day,” an instructor is supposed to have told the cadets.

The Local/djw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

08:43 January 20, 2011 by twisted
This doesn't speak well of the German military. Mutiny is a serious crime and when carried out by cadets (future officers), wow. Not a military I'd want to be a part of.
08:59 January 20, 2011 by catjones
Shiver me timbers...
12:14 January 20, 2011 by tallady
I have a playground across the street from where I live and I always see German children climbing,jumping from stump to stump,or sliding down the pole.Thats a far reach to attribute the lack of desire to climb or the death of a student ,to a ridiculous statement that they do not climb cherry trees but sit in front of computers and lack motor skills..
13:47 January 20, 2011 by iLAd
@twisted German sentiments on drilled obedience run deep. A burnt child dreads the fire.

I'm quite certain that the crew must have had reasons for their refusal. It's most unlikely that a German sailor will ever serve his country in a Gorch-Fock-type of situation. In that case, not securing a climber in a professional way does not speak well for the attitude of the superiors. Who would foolishly risk their life for what seems to be vocational training?

I think the crew took a mile-stone decision.
14:02 January 20, 2011 by finanzdoktor
Although sailors, soldiers, and airman (not gender-specific) will not go to war in a vessel like the Gorch Fock, the manual dexterity learned serving on such a vessel comes in quite handy when serving later. I may not totally agree with ILAd's assessment of the crew taking a "mile-stone decision" by committing mutiny, I do agree that it appears they (the commander and instructors) of the Gorch Fock did not take the necessary safety steps to secure Sarah S. and other sailor cadets for the rigging exercise. That was simply a lack of common sense on their part and should be held responsible for, like the cadets must be held responsible for their actions.
15:23 January 20, 2011 by DOZ
Walk the plank?
16:05 January 20, 2011 by maxbrando
iLAd is a coward.
16:56 January 20, 2011 by storymann
Sailing in that ship is not about going to war in it,, same as training on the USS Constitution,seamanship,,comradery and taking orders and instructions,problem solving ect.

There is most likely more to this than we have read here.Mutiny or almost mutiny does not strike me as a German way of solving a problem..also when you see a class mate splattered on the deck, in peace time training it may be time to halt the program for a while..
20:42 January 20, 2011 by wxman
The article implies that her death caused this behavior by the crew. That is incorrect, her death was meerly the catalyst. The real culprits here are cowardice and lack of discipline. Following a Courts Martial, discharge them all.
23:20 January 20, 2011 by Frenemy
"discharge them all"

hell no! are you kidding?! thats probably exactly what they want.

Instead give them all a 20 year sentence of military service (some menial job like scrubbing the toilets in a decommissioned bunker with a toothbrush all day every day).
04:27 January 21, 2011 by wood artist
Although the article doesn't elaborate, perhaps the reticence of the crew to go aloft had more to do with their perception of safety issues.

The woman fell 27 meters, and I would assume at that height, at least these days, she would have had some sort of fall protection, i.e. a safety harness of some sort. Were I the ship's commander, I wouldn't want to send anyone else up until it was clear exactly how she fell. If it was a personal issue, such as she didn't properly tie in or something, then re-training would clearly have been in order. If it was a failure of the safety system, then fixing that would be significant.

In any case, if those questions were unresolved, it makes perfect sense for the cadets to question the safety of the ship's systems. If that is considered "mutiny" then something is wrong. In the US Navy, those questions would be perfectly reasonable, and command would have a responsibility to address them. Of course, there are "proper ways" to present those concerns, and it's possible they weren't followed here.

This story doesn't provide those details, so we're left to speculate, and that's not a great way to make informed judgments about what is reported. The fact that they flew the entire crew home suggests a bit more than "one sailor fell."

05:49 January 21, 2011 by Bob Barker
Wow! I guess the famous German military is not even a shadow of its former self. The best that the students could hope for in the US Navy is immediate dismissal from the service.
16:28 January 21, 2011 by aslanleon
If you do not wish to train on a traditional ship, do not sign up. If you disobey orders and second guess your commanding officers, who are using the same training techniques on the same type of ship as most major navies in the world, you should be court martialed and thrown out in disgrace.

If you think the military is an encounter group or a democracy, get the hell out before you rot out the whole organization to ineffectiveness.
20:11 January 21, 2011 by fair1day
For centuries sails were used on ALL ships. Disobeying orders? As an earlier post said, then go to jail and scrub toilets with a toothbrush for 20 years. That'll cure you. It isn't up for a vote. Bunch of lazy goofs.
20:43 January 21, 2011 by Michael Keohane
I dont know if the girl Sara Schmidt has some sort of weakenss when she was aloft in the masts and went faint. But under that situation it would have been unavoidable. There is another rule that is of greater importance. The crew who work up in the rigging or anywhere out on deck are always told...and they are told on that ship the SSS GorcH Fock....One hand for the ship and one hand for yourself ("Eine Hand fürs Schiff, eine Hand für sich selbst") nothing else works. There was another death in Portsmouth in England in 2010, another fall from the rigging. It is difficult to keep ones footing and a grasp on ones ship while t sea. But one must always keep it in mind. Each and everyy step and hand grasp could be your last. I have been at sea since I have been 4, and many times I have had narrow escapes. And that is even with paying attention. One must never blame a Commander or senior officers. They dont want accidents, they train to try to avoid it. I did not see the point of some of the commenets. Some were just best left unsaid. But everbody has to take a responsibility for when they say something and do their best to think it out clearly.

The thing I cannot accept is a mutiny under any circumstances at sea. Being with somebody at sea and knowing that they live for you and you live for them. And that is more importance in times of crisis. That person is not found in a person that causes a mutiny at sea. Being at sea with a Captain or Commander is not a democratic experience. There is probably too much democracy in this world today. And the Captain is perfectly in his rights to make mention of that fact that a certain lack of fitness is being called into question. And maybe more training is needed prior to going to sea to compensate for the modern youth having less opportunity to have the right level of fitness in advance. Due to it being so damm dangerous to do the usual things like cyling and engage in outdoor activities without an accident on dry land.
09:47 January 24, 2011 by TinaT
If you go to the navy or military... you know that it is more dangerous then a job as a book keeper. It was an accident. Sad for sure, but an accident.
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