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Gorch Fock captain used ship to water ski

The Local · 27 Jan 2011, 12:01

Published: 27 Jan 2011 12:01 GMT+01:00

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Replacement Michael Brühn, who previously captained the ship before Schatz’s time on board, allegedly used the Gorch Fock’s speedboat to go water skiing, daily Bild reported.

The incident supposedly occurred in 2004, when cadets had just set sail out of the Arrecife port on the island of Lanzarote.

An officer announced: “Two messages! The good news first – everyone gets an extra beer. The bad – our captain wants to go water skiing today.”

A cadet on board the ship at the time told Bild that sailors had to refurl the ship’s sails at no small danger to themselves to satisfy his whim.

“Our commander absolutely had to go water skiing,” he said. “He went down with the long boat and then rode repeatedly for about 20 minutes. We were all stunned.”

The now 55-year-old Brühn, who captained the ship between 2001 and 2006, also ordered cadets not to photograph the private foray, but Bild published photos allegedly taken that day.

The news came after Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg relieved Schatz of his duties over the weekend, replacing him with Brühn as embarrassing details about conditions leading up to and after the death of a women cadet in November continued to come out.

On Tuesday a report by Hellmut Königshaus, the German parliamentary liaison to the military, highlighted allegations by former cadets who said that instructors were involved in heavy drinking and sexual assaults, in addition to subjecting naval trainees to humiliating drills.

But Bild‘s report suggests that the cavalier behaviour by the ship’s officers goes back even further.

Defence Minister Guttenberg faced the parliamentary defence committee on Wednesday to answer for the sailor’s death – which led to what has been described as a “mutiny.” He was also questioned about the accidental shooting of a soldier in Afghanistan and the mysterious opening of soldier’s mail from the front there.

Opposition leaders have accused the minister of scapegoating the Gorch Fock commander Norbert Schatz to distract from his own failure to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the sailor’s death, while also allowing misinformation about the shooting death in Afghanistan to spread.

Guttenberg admitted a breakdown his ministry’s attempts to clarify the scandals, but denied accusations of a cover-up.

The charges against him had “fallen in like rotten roof beams,” he said during the committee meeting.

Guttenberg admitted to providing Bundestag members with an “incomplete” report of the 21-year-old Bundeswehr soldier’s shooting death in Afghanistan – which was initially characterised as a suicide, but may have resulted from an apparent game involving the weapon.

Story continues below…

Though issuing an incomplete report “should not happen,” the mistake was corrected last week, he said. Guttenberg also insisted that he had told journalists on December 18 that the soldier had likely died of external causes.

Meanwhile a team of investigators is to arrive on the Gorch Fock on Thursday evening at the southern Argentina port of Ushuaia. They have orders to probe charges that officer bullying may have led to the death of 25-year-old Sarah S., who fell 27 metres to her death from the ship’s rigging late last year, the Defence Ministry said.

The ship has been ordered to return to Germany.

The Local/DPA/ka

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

12:48 January 27, 2011 by xx.weirich.xx
Well at least he was having a good time XD
13:57 January 27, 2011 by derExDeutsche
An officer announced: ¦quot;Two messages! The good news first ­ everyone gets an extra beer. The bad ­ our captain wants to go water skiing today.¦quot;

A cadet on board the ship at the time told Bild that sailors had to refurl the ship¦#39;s sails at no small danger to themselves to satisfy his whim.

¦quot;Our commander absolutely had to go water skiing,¦quot; he said. ¦quot;He went down with the long boat and then rode repeatedly for about 20 minutes. We were all stunned.¦quot;

- is this 'Joke' coming to light, supposed to justify the actions of the ridiculous Herr Guttenberg? 'Scandalous'? Hardly. I've heard that same joke 1.000.000 times. 'Lame' is more like it.
14:51 January 27, 2011 by auniquecorn
Guttenberg also insisted that he had told journalists on December 18 that the soldier had likely died of external causes!

I think if he told the journalists it would have been in the papers all over the world...

And why tell them instead of his own people
17:54 January 27, 2011 by toemag
Civilians don't get it, and never will. Every thing that happens on the "Gorch Fock" stays on the "Gorch Fock".

In my service time (British Army), we had quite a few suicides and attempted suicides for personal reasons, during the same time period more of my civilian friends attempted or took their own lives.

I always enjoyed a unique training opportunity, and as a Soldier I would have loved to have gone on a stint on a ship like the Gorch Fock. As to the traditions associated with crossing the equator, just about every Navy in the world has them.

Please don't ask me how many people we lost on training exercises, but every Soldier knows that river crossings are lethal, and have claimed more lives in the past than sailors falling off the rigging to their death.

I like the way it has to be Herr Guttenberg's fault, nice that, not.
18:58 January 27, 2011 by coot
If you follow the whole story of the Gorch Fock, the issue is one of regard for the lives of the soldiers. Yes, the military is risky. Yes, you must sometimes risk your life even in training, so that you may be competent to do some task when it really counts.

But there is reasonable risk and unreasonable risk. A German-language site that I read reported that they do not wear climbing harnesses because there are so many crew members going up/down at once that it is impractical. Maybe that is the case, but if it is, then a commander must necessarily balance that risk of death against the training/operational needs of the vessel. The issue is about whether there was a proper decision in that tradeoff; "the captain wants to water-ski" seems NOT to be an acceptable reason to risk the lives of the crew.

Further, on a ship like this, you might need to make sail changes many times each day. Is it really reasonable to not follow basic climbing-safety? I don't go aloft on my boat without a climbing harness, and my mast is no where near 27 meters.

Is it Herr Gutenberg's fault? It seems unlikely, but it is his responsibility to order corrective action.
00:47 January 28, 2011 by toemag
"But there is reasonable risk and unreasonable risk". quite a good turn of phrase :-) Try "Calculated risk", consider how many trainees have completed their training, learning invaluable lessons over the years. Of course their will be those who for one reason or another have or hold a grudge against the PS (Permanent staff) of that particular training ship, purely due to the mechanics involved with many highly motivated young people vying to be the best of the best.

I learned how to sail on Lake Windermere as a teenager, obviously a much smaller craft than the Gorch Fock, but every one aboard has a job to do.
07:46 January 28, 2011 by wood artist
Okay, there are still, obviously, a bunch of questions to be answered. And apparently some new ones too.

However, I have to observe something here. Take a look at this picture, and then take a look at that picture from a week ago with the captain who was relieved. To me, the faces of the cadets speak volumes about which man they prefer to command their ship.

Since the waterskiing thing is such an old joke, I'm not sure I believe it. However, if there really is film or pictures, then I guess it's a possibility. Was the captain out of line if it did happen? Dunno. The US Navy has some traditions that might seem a bit much to civilians, and I'll be the German Navy does too.

I'll wait to hear more.

09:11 January 28, 2011 by toemag
I know this is straying off the path some, but the "Deepcut (UK)", scandal was much worse..

09:40 January 28, 2011 by catjones
Shiver me timbers!
06:03 January 29, 2011 by ceebee
Having just watched an NDR documentary on the Gorch Fock .. I can say I saw no sign of either misbehaviour or the sort abuse and sexual games that the Bild-Zeitung seems to see.

The words "beat-up" come to mind.

There was a death on board ... a death that needs to be properly investigated (although it seems to have been already).

The behaviour of the politicians involved seems to typical of all politicians ... protect their own backsides first and foremost.

But perhaps this is really just an excuse ... maybe this really is just all about ending the Gorch Fock as one of the Naval cadets says in the documentary.
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