Ships break down

Breakdowns at the "Gorch Fock""Resigning does not serve anyone"

Daniel Heinrich: The Ministry of Defense admits that in the case of the rehabilitation of the "Gorch Fock" there were considerable errors. On the phone is frigate captain Marco Thiele, chairman of the navy of the German Armed Forces Association, which represents the interests of the soldiers. Good evening!

Marco Thiele: Good evening

Heinrich: Mr. Thiele, you have just told me that you yourself served on the "Gorch Fock", so you know the ship well and you are also familiar with the training there - does the Navy need this ship?

Thiele: Yes, absolutely, because on this ship you get to know seafaring, you get to know the dependency on the sea and as far as the dependence on wind and waves is concerned, something you don't get to know with a normal motor-driven ship.

"The sailing training ship has proven itself in our navy"

Heinrich: That's why I'm asking, Mr Thiele, because France and Great Britain can do it without a training ship.

Thiele: That's right. Their policy is to do without a sailing training ship. But keep looking around Europe, go to Italy, go to Portugal, there you will find sailing training ships. As far as I know, the Chinese Navy recently built three or four training sailing ships; the Brazilians and the Americans have one training sailing ship. So it is certainly a different policy story, but especially in our navy it has proven its worth with this sailing training ship.

Heinrich: After 60 years at sea, Mr. Thiele, the steel of the hull has been eaten away - isn't it better to scrap the ship and build a new one?

Thiele: Yes and no. In the end, it doesn't matter to me that we absolutely have this "Gorch Fock" now, so primarily not, but that we have a sailing training ship as soon as possible. If we want to have a new sailing training ship, which would certainly have been a practical idea a few years ago, then it has to be planned, has to be put out to tender, has to be built. With the current time frames for armaments planning in the Bundeswehr, we are roughly ten, in the worst case even 15 years until we have this ship.

"Shipbuilding steel wears off over the decades"

Heinrich: Why didn't that happen?

Thiele: You actually should have done that ten or 15 years ago. At that point in time, as far as I know, they said that we would definitely receive the "Gorch Fock", we would keep them, and at that point in time the errors that have now occurred or that have now been found were obviously the one appropriate people not so obvious.

Heinrich: So mistakes in Berlin.

Thiele: No, when it comes to errors in Berlin, when it comes to errors in the planning now, I would have figured it out next. No, this is about errors, technical defects that have arisen, which have emerged over the years, which is also in the nature of things. It's just a shipbuilding steel, and in a sense it wears off over the decades.

Heinrich: When we are on the subject of steel, we can also take up the current debate between the Federal Audit Office and the Ministry of Defense, it is now going back and forth. The Federal Audit Office is of the opinion that the "Gorch Fock" was already unsuitable for the high seas in 2012 after work, and that the safety of the crew was endangered. Doesn't that worry you as a soldier?

Thiele: So at the first moment when you hear that, I definitely worry. But when I look at the commanders, i.e. the captains of the last few years, and also parts of the crew that I know personally, then I can only say that this is simply not true. These are people who would never allow other people to go to sea or there is danger to life and limb during training. So this allegation means that in principle we have to open proceedings against the former commanders, against former crew members because of negligent bodily harm or at least the risk of bodily harm occurring. I think that is simply absurd.

"Seafaring in general is not safe"

Heinrich: I also ask that because the Federal Audit Office insists on it.

Thiele: It may be that the Federal Audit Office insists, but I do not see it at all. There may have been situations in individual parts that are not without risk. Seafaring in general is not safe. Serving on warships is also not without risk. There is no such thing as one hundred percent security. There is no one hundred percent security for one's own life in the armed forces, that is in the nature of things, and there is also no one hundred percent security in seafaring. There never is. I do not think that this is the right approach to claim that there is a danger to life and limb and that is why the ship should have been withdrawn from service earlier.

Heinrich: The Ministry of Defense has now also admitted that the renovation of the ship, Mr Thiele, did not go well, admitted the grievances, but these were all things that the Federal Audit Office named at the beginning of the year. So far, nobody has been held responsible - how do you explain that?

Thiele: Well, the question of who do you want to be responsible for the system of repairing ships and boats in the Navy, that doesn't just apply to the "Gorch Fock";

"Bundeswehr must change the system of repair"

Heinrich: The Minister of Defense?

Thiele: At the end of the day, it would serve no one if the defense minister resigned on it now. That wouldn't solve the problem, that wouldn't make it better.

Heinrich: Bundeswehr leadership?

Thiele: In the end, the same applies. What the Bundeswehr has to do, and definitely has to do in my opinion, is to change the repair system. It doesn't help if any heads are rolling now. It's like football, it's always done with pleasure, then the coach is kicked out and suddenly the team plays better - that won't work at this point.

Heinrich: Except that, of course, no tax money is wasted in football.

Thiele: I have to agree with you, of course, that is correct. The question is, we are now at a point where a large sum has already been spent. The numbers fluctuate somewhere between 60, 70 and 80 million, but the fact that the numbers are already fluctuating is a bit scary, I agree with you. But that money has been spent and you have to imagine the "Gorch Fock" today as a large Revell kit that is in the shipyard. That means that when you open a Revell construction kit with ships, we now have two halves of the hull. And now you have to imagine, the two halves are now glued together and the rest is lying around there. So that means just throwing that away and building something new - ignoring the timeframe just mentioned - then it would also mean that you really burn extra money again.

"I would definitely put this ship together again"

Heinrich: That means, if you had your hat on, what would you do or arrange for it?

Thiele: I would definitely put this ship back together, but I would definitely also put a very clear edge and say additional expenses are not allowed. Point. Just the shipyard ...

Heinrich: But this one ... exactly, you wanted to come to the shipyard, please!

Thiele: Exactly. The shipyard has received a lot of money, the shipyard has also been promised a lot of money. How far it makes commercial sense to go into a controlled bankruptcy and so on, I am unable to judge, I lack the expertise to do this, but the federal government should continue to pay if the shipyard presents a sensible concept, such as she really wants to finish building this ship. Anything else would be dubious. We are at a point where we have spent a lot of money, it can't really be any further now, because so much money has flowed, that's easily enough to finish building this ship - from my perspective.

"In the last few years, no ship has been finished on time"

Heinrich: Mr Thiele, in conclusion, if you look at the back and forth between the Ministry of Defense, the discussions, including the upheavals with the shipyard, would you sometimes prefer that decisions in this area were made on the Flensburg Fjord than in the Berlin administrative district?

Thiele: That's a good question. Personally, I would like that in situations like this - and other nations do that much better than we do - that we, let me say, have a greater influence on it, not just a political but also a commercial influence, which is the repair of ships and boats. We have - I would like to explain this briefly - we have always repaired the ships and boats, i.e. in principle we have them inspected every two years, that's what you do with warships, roughly speaking, but what is determined in advance everything is probably broken, and it is determined in advance how long it will take. That has never worked. I first experienced it in late 1991, and it didn't work out then. It was clear that the shipyards were bidding on a catalog, and the shipyards know exactly when the ship comes out of the water, then you'll find one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight and how many things in addition that increase prices and extend the shipyard idle time. I don't have any figures available, but I believe that in the last ten years there has not been a single lay in the shipyard in the German navy or ships and boats of the German navy have been ready in time.

Heinrich: Frigate Captain Marco Thiele, thank you very much for talking to us!

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