A Real Pirate Movie


BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Own report) - In spite of the cabinet decision approving the deployment of German warships at the Horn of Africa, due to be announced today, the German Navy is insisting upon new offensive competence. Being allowed to shoot to ward off attacks won't suffice, explain military officials, one must receive permission to actively pursue maritime pirates. This is because of international competition in trying to take control over the maritime trade routes off the East African coast, which also means warding off pirates. Contrary to popular allegations, maritime piracy globally has stagnated at a significantly lower level than recorded at the turn of the century. An increase in activity has been registered only off the coast from Somalia, since Ethiopia invaded that country two years ago in alliance with the West, escalating the war. German media is largely supportive of the military demands for an expansion of its mandate, authorizing it to take the offensive. The use of arms should not only be defensive, but also include offensive. One should not abide by the motto "the important thing is to take part."


Since the beginning of the week, the European Union has officially found itself in combat against piracy off the coast of Somalia. On Monday the foreign ministers of the member states agreed on a plan of operations for their deployment against maritime piracy at the Horn of Africa and reached the formal decision to launch the first EU naval intervention in history: the operation "EU Navfor Somalia - Atalanta." Warships from several EU countries, the first of which are already on location, can immediately begin their mission. Their mandate authorizes military units to take all "necessary measures, including the use of force" to deter pirates, thwart their attacks or even attack them.[1] The "robust" operation that the German Navy has been hoping for, for so long, is now within reach. The German government will decide today on participation in the EU pirate mission. The German parliament (Bundestag) will vote on it next week. A favorable majority is expected.

Enforcement Vacuum

With the authorization by the parliament, the German military will achieve an important objective. For years the military has been complaining about an enforcement vacuum on the high seas. Operations against pirates, like all other measures against crime, fall into the domain of the Federal Police. In order for the navy to be able to "hunt pirates," fighting maritime piracy with warships must explicitly be statutorily regulated, with a constitutional amendment to broaden the navy's range of competence (german-foreign-policy.com reported [2]). Since it was not possible to pass this amendment earlier, the pending EU mission will be able to circumvent these legal obstacles by using a special construction. According to Minister of Defense Jung, the operation off the coast of Somalia is in line with the constitution, because, according to the constitution, Germany can be active in the context of a "system of collective security." This is the case with the EU naval mission.

Active Shot

In spite of this partial success, more legal hurdles are standing in the way of the military being permitted an unrestrained line of action. According to the terms of the mandate presented to the cabinet, the navy is to dedicate itself to "the prevention of piratical actions," but not actively fight pirates. According to the Defense Ministry, the mandate "goes up to an active shot," and this is only for the purpose of protecting a ship from being attacked, but not to pursue the pirates.[3] This restriction is being heavily criticized. The press complains that, German participation in a major military/political undertaking - the international fight against piracy - is once again under the Olympic slogan: "the important thing is to take part."[4] Rainer Stinner, FDP security specialist, warns against the German rules of engagement being too defensive. "Merely escorting ships is not enough. We must actively fight the pirates and above all take away their ships."[5] The inspector of the German Navy, Vice Admiral Wolfgang Nolting, complained back in September of a "shameful near idleness" of the German warships and called for public pressure to be mobilized to broaden the range of operational authority of the naval forces.[6]


For the most part, the German media is supportive of the PR campaign waged by the military and politicians. Nearly unanimously, the media is calling for the Bundeswehr to operate as "robustly" as possible against the pirates, reasoning that the number of pirate attacks on the high seas have "dramatically increased".[7] But in fact, the number has for some time been decreasing. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), charged with monitoring piracy, discovered a decline in the number of registered attacks back in 2004, down from 445 the preceding year to 329. In 2007 there were only 263 attacks worldwide. The number this year remains at about this level. In the first nine months of 2008, the IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre reported 199 incidents compared to 198 for the same period last year.[8] Off the coast of East Africa the number of attacks have been in fact on the rise, since Ethiopia invaded Somalia, with western support, escalating the war. Since the beginning of the year, there have been about 100 incidents of piracy registered at the Horn of Africa. But only about 40 ships have actually been hijacked, of the nearly 25,000 merchant vessels that annually pass through the dangerous straits at the Horn of Africa. Even the annual record of US $50 million in ransom, expected by shipping insurance companies and experts, is relatively modest in comparison to the sums thrown around in the financial crisis or in comparison to the costs of current military missions.


German media and representatives of the logistics branch maintain their demand to finally "get serious" in the fight against the pirates - otherwise world trade will suffer heavy losses.[9] They threaten that shipping insurance will become more expensive through the rise in piracy, thereby raising the costs of shipping. This in turn will be felt by consumers, through the rise in supermarket prices.[10] The German ship owners are sending out an SOS, alleging that they can hardly find personnel for the passage through the Gulf of Aden. They are demanding more military protection. "We are very worried that the navies are hesitating with their support. We urgently need help, now," said the spokesman of the Association of German Ship Owners. "The navies must finally intervene together."[11] These demands are obviously ignoring alternative means of action. It has been reported, that the ships of the Maersk shipping company of Denmark choose a route circumventing the pirates. Because German container ships are no easy prey for pirates, German ship owners are viewing the situation with calm interest.[12] Even though German ships are also potentially endangered, it is more difficult for pirates to seize their ships because of their high steep keel walls.


Besides popularizing the theme through a planned "action filled and emotional TV event movie" on the fight against pirates,[13] there is a reinforced dramatization, tailored to support arbitrary demands for escalation. For example, over the weekend, nearly all of the media carried front-page articles on how the German navy prevented a pirate attack on a German ocean liner. The four-star ship the "MS Astor" was supposedly attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Oman. "The passengers barely escaped. The frigate "Mecklenburg-Vorpommern" could thwart the attack at the last instant."[14] But in fact, the warship fired warning shots at two speedboats, that appeared at a distance of about three nautical miles from the liner and then fled.[15] Whether or not they were pirate boats remains admittedly unknown. According to unanimous testimony, weapons were not seen. A spokesperson for the Transocean Tours, the promoter of the cruise, declared that no one had sent a call for help and that neither the 492 guests onboard nor the crew noticed the incident.[16]

Not Attacked

Even though the organizer of the cruise emphasizes that the ocean liner was "definitely not attacked" and is continuing to sail, unhampered, its planned route, the German Foreign Ministry claims that its passengers were "in great danger" at the Horn of Africa.[17] The German Transportation Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee warned German shipowners "of the danger of pirates" on routes through the Gulf of Aden. Each ship owner and every captain must place highest priority on the safety of the passengers, says the politician. "This is not a pirate film, this is real mortal danger."[18]

Military Competition

The efforts to expand the mandate come at a time when nearly every major power is sending its navy to the Horn of Africa. Warships from the USA, the EU, Russia and India are cruising those waters, which are among the world's most important sea routes. Whereas Russia is seeking to establish a naval bas in Aden (Yemen) and the Indian Navy is allowed to set anchor in Oman, Berlin obtained landing rights in Djibouti years ago, where also France and the USA maintain their own bases. The major powers' deployment at the Horn of Africa (german-foreign-policy.com reported [19]) provides a premonition of the military rivalry to come.

[1] EU erlaubt Waffengewalt gegen Piraten vor Somalia; www.sueddeutsche.de 08.12.2008
[2] see also Seekrieger (I), Seekrieger (II), Expeditionary Navy, Seemacht (I), Seemacht (II), Piratenjagd, S.O.S. - Piraten, Modelleinsatz vor Somalia and Exclusive Contacts
[3] "Deutsche Marine soll primär Piraterie verhüten"; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 06.12.2008
[4] Bundeswehr und Piraten: Hauptsache dabei; Tagesspiegel 08.12.2008
[5] "Deutsche Marine soll primär Piraterie verhüten"; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 06.12.2008
[6] see also S.O.S. - Piraten
[7] Dramatischer Anstieg: Mehr Piraten-Überfälle; www.n-tv.de 23.10.2008
[8] Piracy mounts unabated in Somalia: IMB report; www.iccwbo.org 23.10.2008
[9] Welthandel leidet unter Piraterie; Handelsblatt 04.12.2008
[10] Experte: Piraterie macht Waren teurer; Handelsblatt 19.11.2008
[11] Machtlose Marine: Reeder funken SOS wegen Piraten; Financial Times Deutschland 19.11.2008. Die Angst vor Piraten beeinträchtigt den Welthandel; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 20.11.2008
[12] Piraten zwingen Reederei Maersk zum Umdenken; Handelsblatt 21.11.2008
[13] see also S.O.S. - Piraten
[14] Piratenattacke auf MS Astor: Marine vereitelt Angriff auf deutsches Kreuzfahrtschiff; Spiegel online 04.12.2008
[15], [16] Marine rettet "MS Astor" vor Piraten-Angriff; dpa 05.12.2008
[17] Die Piraten im Visier; Kölnische Rundschau 09.12.2008
[18] Weltreisende flüchten vor Piraten in die Luft; Netzeitung 09.12.2008
[19] see also S.O.S. - Piraten