A GERMAN navy training ship has been ordered to dock in Argentina for an investigation into allegations of mutiny following a fatal accident.
The Gorch Fock tall ship, a 52-year-old training vessel, was the scene of tragedy last November when a 25-year-old cadet, identified only as Sarah S, fell 27m (88ft) and was fatally injured.
Two months on, the full details of the accident are coming to light, including allegations of widespread bullying and sexual abuse by the ship’s permanent crew. Yesterday the ship was ordered back to port in Ushuaia, at the southernmost tip of Argentina, to allow investigators board the vessel.
Last November’s accident happened when Sarah S and other crew were ordered to scale the ship’s rigging, a standard part of sailor training aboard the ship.
The woman, from Lower Saxony, reportedly slipped, fell and hit the deck. After the fall she was taken to a hospital – the ship was docked in the Brazilian port of Salvador de Bahia at the time – where she later died from her injuries.
After her death, four of her shipmates refused orders to climb the rigging, sparking quarrels with their superiors. Days later the four were flown back to Germany on grounds of “mutiny and inciting the crew”. Gorch Fock commander Norbert Schatz accused the cadets of a “lack of co-operation with the ship’s command”. This sparked a wider mutiny and, days later, the entire crew of 70 were flown home.
At the time, Commander Schatz blamed the incident on the sedentary lifestyles of modern young people. “When I was a boy I used to climb cherry trees in our neighbour’s garden and was always down again quick enough when he [his neighbour] came out,” he said. “Motor skills have dropped – youngsters don’t sit in cherry trees anymore but rather in front of computers.” The ship has had no cadets since then.
A parliamentary investigation report released this week painted a different picture of the incident. Cadets “did not want to go aloft after the painful loss of their comrade”, the report says, while other cadets told investigators they “did not continue on the Gorch Fock ”.
The investigator found evidence of crew exercising psychological and emotional pressure on cadets to continue the training.
Defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has promised to examine the report’s findings in detail. “There will be no prejudice from my side,” he said, promising that any incorrect behaviour by naval personnel would “naturally have consequences”.