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Gorch Fock captain relieved of duty

The Local · 22 Jan 2011, 09:12

Published: 22 Jan 2011 09:12 GMT+01:00

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Guttenberg has ordered the Gorch Fock to return to Germany immediately. "I have instructed the navy chief of staff to relieve the ship's commander as leader of the ship," the defence minister told daily Bild am Sonntag.

Ahead of publication of the newspaper's report on Saturday, a spokesman for the defence ministry confirmed Captain Norbert Schatz was dismissed.

An investigation by Hellmut Königshaus, the German parliamentary liaison to the military, found that the crew of the Gorch Fock rebelled after one of their comrades, 25-year-old Sarah S., fell 27 metres to her death during a climbing exercise last November.

According to the report by Königshaus, four officer cadets were accused of mutiny after members of the crew – still mourning the death of their colleague – refused to follow orders to climb the ship's rigging.

Pending further notice, the ship will not leave the harbour in Kiel once it returns to Germany.

The Gorch Fock will be out of commission "until a commission is appointed, in cooperation with representatives of the German Bundestag, to decide the extent to which the Gorch Fock has a future as a training ship and ambassador for Germany on the world's oceans," Guttenberg told Bild.

According to broadcaster ARD, the ship's captain was informed of his dismissal in a phone call. The Gorch Fock, which is currently moored in Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina, is expected to set sail for Kiel on February 4.

Story continues below…

Schatz's predecessor, Michael Brühn, is set to take over command of the ship. In its show Nachtmagazin, ARD reported that Brühn is also a member of the investigative committee that is expected to arrive in Ushuaia next Thursday.

DPA/DAPD/The Local/arp

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

10:00 January 22, 2011 by pepsionice
I can understand the historical implications of using the sailboat as a training device....however, in this day of age....to still learn how to climb a mast?

I suspect that within two years....the vessel will be docked and they move onto a more modern vessel to train junior officers.
10:18 January 22, 2011 by BR549
It is sad that they had an accident and a crewmember died. However, all sailors know the risks involved in sailing a "blow boat" and that rigging is high and accidents up there can happen. For a crew to disobey the orders of their Captain and behave in a mutinous manner is inexcusable. I feel bad for the Captain...relieved of duty over "political correctness". I think he deserved a better crew as well.
10:59 January 22, 2011 by catjones
Focked up.
13:10 January 22, 2011 by The-ex-pat
"Still mourning the death of their colleague ­ refused to follow orders"

Lets all hope that these people never have to go to war and defend us!
15:35 January 22, 2011 by derExDeutsche

I could not agree more. And, that the Captain is made to walk the plank in such a public manner, months after the fact, is a slap to the face of all those that serve Germany militarily. Public opinion of Herr Guttenberg was more important than common sense or honor in this case. I don't often get pissed off at German Polis. However, henceforth, Herr Guttenberg is a DBag.

On another note, maybe it is time to retire such a boat, Germanys Public and Polis obviously don't have any stomach for it.
16:10 January 22, 2011 by Major B
As a Guttenberg admirer I agree he didn't handle this well or right. Smells of that oil tanker incident near Kunduz. Let him be a military officer with this kind of civilian leadership and feel the low morale effects of non-support by the higher ups.
17:02 January 22, 2011 by wpfaeffle
Sacking the skipper shows bad judgment. Doesn't he deserve a fair hearing?
17:03 January 22, 2011 by Frenemy
"Still mourning the death of their colleague ­ refused to follow orders"??!!!

What the f#ck kind of behavior is that from military personnel? If this is the kind of attitude we are to expect from Guttenberg's all volunteer military, the problems have only just begun. (next up: politically correct workers rights for soldiers like a friendly work environment, no yelling, regular vacations in Ibiza, etc)
17:39 January 22, 2011 by Major B
My man Frenemy,

Got to chuckle at the above.

What about Greece a the vacation spot for government paid "regular vacations" for soldaten? Could help the local economies and shore up German-Greek relations, the Greeks still being sour at Merkel's hard line and their austerity measures. (joke of course)
17:40 January 22, 2011 by storymann
Take a good look at the cadets ,,I see the 1000 yard stare .
18:17 January 22, 2011 by Frenemy
'sup Major B,

Sure, why not (the PIIGS are pretty much interchangeable as European tourist destinations anyway).

And pandering to Euro Zone abusers seems to be at the forefront of the German foreign policy agenda lately...
18:43 January 22, 2011 by wood artist
I still think there is something significant missing from the information that has been released thus far. Although, obviously, I have no experience with how things are done in the German Navy, I can discuss how something like this would have been handled (or at least how it SHOULD have been handled) in the US Navy.

We have no information about why the girl fell. In simple terms, it would appear either she failed to properly use a harness, or the safety system somehow failed.

Other than keeping the ship operational (while sailing) no one should be sent aloft until that is clarified. If it was something she failed to do, then the entire crew should be re-trained, to ensure they know exactly how to protect themselves from a similar situation. If it was a system failure, that should be properly addressed before anyone is expected to go aloft again.

Now, if the Captain refused to take those steps, the cadets would be appropriately concerned, and their "refusal" might be based upon perfectly legal military rules. To face injury or death in battle is one thing; to face it on a training ship is quite another. Certainly the job is not without risks, but this is one that should be properly minimized.

In the US military it is appropriate to refuse to follow an unlawful order, and this appears to be a case where that might be what happened. Relief of the ship's captain wouldn't be done lightly, and it suggests that there's more than we know hiding somewhere.

Rather than rail against the Navy, the Captain, the cadets, and the military in general, let's wait to see what we think when the whole story is out.

19:03 January 22, 2011 by Frenemy
"let's wait to see what we think when the whole story is out."

*IF* it gets out.
20:06 January 22, 2011 by wood artist
Very true, Frenemy.

However, it would seem likely that this "investigation" is going to have to come up with something to report. On one side you have some cadets accused of "mutiny," which is a pretty serious offense. On the other side, you have a ship's captain relieved of command, a step never taken lightly.

Somewhere in there is the truth, and I suspect the Bundestag is likely going to demand some reasonable, and reasonably complete, explanation.

20:45 January 22, 2011 by Frenemy
"I suspect the Bundestag is likely going to demand some reasonable, and reasonably complete, explanation."

...I can't help but notice that you left out "factually accurate" (!)
00:32 January 23, 2011 by Prufrock2010
Who were these sailors training to fight, anyway -- the Pirates of Penzance?
04:46 January 23, 2011 by wenddiver
I think every military and Police Unit in the world is still rying to figure out how to conduct training with females, since there are obvious physical differences, not least of which is a very large differece in upper body strength.

Politicians may make us all equal, but nature didn't. Anybody ho has ever run up and down the Ratlines of a tall shipp or raced yachts knows how physically demanding this is. Our Yankee and English Top men in Age of Sail warships, were acrobat class atheletes. Crew who did not have the requisite upper body strength and balance were assigned positions as waisters. A realistic assesment of the crew positions is part of leading. When training Combat Leaders, you can expect to break a few eggs, and acceptable losses grow proportionally with the importance of the position. Regretable, but to be expected.

All future leaders should be aware of the risks, inherent in defending the Freedom of their country.
09:52 January 23, 2011 by storymann
It appears that the Captan needs to take some leadership courses,The look on the cadets faces gives me the impression that this was not only about the death of the cadet,but about how the Captan dealt with the situation. This man may have been a good and knowledgable sailor but a poor leader of young men and women.

I do not know this to be true ,but to me it is obvious it is a leadership problem.
10:11 January 23, 2011 by Nemo2010
Having a woman aboard is bad luck for starters. To top it off sailors have fallen from the rigging since tall ships sailed. The mutineers should simply be hanged for their mutiny. We live in a world of pussy-wimps. Is this the navy??? Or Disney cruise???
10:24 January 23, 2011 by storymann
Ya, Nemo2010..here are some good luck sailor charms we need.

• Smash a bottle against the hull of the boat before beginning a voyage to ensure a safe return. Make sure it breaks! If it doesn't, it could bring bad luck

• An old Good Luck Superstition includes stepping aboard using the right foot first to start the journey off on the right foot.

• Having a black cat aboard brings a sailor safely home from sea.

• Wearing an earring ensures that a sailor won't drown

• A naked woman on board calms the sea.

• Tattoos provide protection for sailors.

• A child born on the ship brings good luck to all aboard.

• Toss an old pair of shoes overboard as you depart on a journey and good luck follows you on the voyage.

• The caul of the head of a newborn baby is protection against drowning and will bring the owner good luck. (eeeuuuwwwww)

• Neptune likes rum and the offer of a shot overboard ensures his protection for the duration of the journey. We share whatever we're drinking with neptune when we're beginning a voyage. He seems to like tequila and wine too.

• Swallows seen while at sea are a happy sign.

• Good luck abounds when dolphins are seen swimming with the ship goes an ancient Good Luck Superstition.

• Placing a silver coin beneath the mast (heads up) ensures the vessel has successful commissions.
Pacific Jade (our boat) had one under the mizzen mast when we unstepped it for repairs. We made sure the coin was there when the mast went back in.

• Pouring wine on deck prior to departure on a long journey pleases the gods and ensures a safe voyage.

• To avoid dying by shipwreck a sailor can carry the feather of a wren that was slain on New Year's Day.

• To keep storms away secure a horseshoe to the mast.
11:38 January 23, 2011 by GermanAussier
i think it's only fortunate that Gernmany does not have much of a coastline to defend. I am all for the teaching of proper 'seamenship' but using a 'tall' ship to train sailors seems rather outdated. I doubt the US, French, British, or Russian navies would train future comanders of their nuclear powered fleets on a sail boats. The fact that the cadets carried out an alleged mutiny shows a problem in their training from the start. No sailor in any modern navy would dare go against their captain,. It's a problem with discipline, something that should of been hammered home to these sailors before they even stepped foot aboard a boat. I can see faults on all sides here, but most of all with the training these men recieved. In this day and age the only 'action' these sailors would see would be against Somaili pirates, but I doubt that they would be capable of carrying that out.
13:39 January 23, 2011 by Yontrop
"The fact that the cadets carried out an alleged mutiny..." Go back to school and learn what "alleged" and "fact" mean before you use the two words in the same sentence. The rest of your post does not make any more sense.

Now every body go back and read wood artist's #12 post.
13:55 January 23, 2011 by GermanAussier


1. declared or stated to be as described; asserted: The alleged murderer could not be located for questioning.

2. doubtful; suspect; supposed: The alleged cure-all produced no results when it was tested by reputable doctors.



1. something that actually exists; reality; truth: Your fears have no basis in fact.

2. something known to exist or to have happened: Space travel is now a fact.

3. a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true: Scientists gather facts about plant growth.

4. something said to be true or supposed to have happened: The facts given by the witness are highly questionable.
16:11 January 23, 2011 by Yontrop
You've demonstrated the ability to copy and paste (or write from rote memory - whichever that was). The fact that you included # 4 above shows you don't understand. "The statements given by the witness are factually questionable." A witness cannot give facts, anymore than anyone could carry out and alleged mutiny. Someone could be alleged to have carried out a mutiny. It's only grammar, but shows fuzzy thinking that is reflected in your blanket condemnation of people actually involved and not just sitting at a computer taking potshots.
18:53 January 23, 2011 by Prufrock2010
Wrong. It depends on the legal definition of "mutiny" and sufficient facts to establish that the definition has been met. Thus one could indeed carry out an "alleged mutiny" until it is proved that an actual mutiny occurred.
19:31 January 23, 2011 by wenddiver
It depends on how humorous a group of CAPTAINS will be about one of their own getting releaved because these out of shape winers refused to to obey one of their band of brothers orders like all courtsmartials and all the atorney games in the world won't save them if they did it on a ship at Sea.

On a US Naval Ship the Captain could of had them put on bread and Water in the Brig in the hold, guarded by the Ship's Marines.

Of course the Captain failed to explore the possibilitys inherent in his command. He could have ordered 14 hours of forced dancing of Jigs until morale improves or shot one of the mutineers if in combat.

Floggings will continue until crew morale improves.
01:32 January 24, 2011 by William Thirteen
at least we now know which paper KTzB reads! one wonders if this will help improve the flagging circulation of the B.Z....
09:25 January 24, 2011 by wenddiver
In the picture the Captain is saluting, why is the crew not at attention??? These people certainly don't exude the attitude of Officer Cadets/Midshipmen. Very troubling when you consider that they will be expected to assist in keeping open the North Atlantic Sea Lanes, so that Canada and the US could come to Germany's aid if she was attacked.
11:01 January 24, 2011 by Yontrop
Prufrock, I have to admit you are right. It is a pretty "fine distinction" though and could be stated more clearly. I don't think Geermanaussier had given the phrase as much thought as you did, but I'm also sure I was too hard in my first post. I stick by the general drift of my comments. Anyone who doesn't know the difference between a boat and a ship and who thinks dealing with Somali pirates is trivial, shouldn't be taken seriously.

But before I forget, Storyman; "A naked woman on board calms the sea" isn't a real superstition...just something sailors like to tell some of their female guests. ;-)
04:04 January 25, 2011 by CaliforniaSailor
RE: "...in this day of age....to still learn how to climb a mast?"

I am sorry that the young woman died and know nothing of the circumstances. But the sea is a very dangerous place. People die there. The risks don't vanish aboard a motor vessel: ask any commercial fisherman.

Tall ship sail training inculcates unparalleled seamanship. That's why navies around the world still have it.
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