Navy on Permanent Mission


BERLIN/DJIBOUTI (Own report) - The international deployment of warships at the Horn of Africa is being accompanied by transatlantic rivalry. Two dozen frigates and destroyers from more than a dozen nations are engaged in anti-piracy operations in one of the world's most important maritime trade route regions. At the same time, leading western powers are insisting on separate command structures. Whereas the EU is putting its first naval mission to the test, the USA has, for its part, founded a new multi-national alliance, which also includes European nations. Therefore the EU and the USA are for the first time entering into military competition with one another and struggling for the leadership. At the same time, with the construction of several naval bases, Russia is strategically strengthening its position in the region. The German base, in this contested region, is located in Djibouti. Naval circles are beginning to prepare public opinion to accept the permanent presence of German warships at the Horn of Africa.


The number of pirate attacks at the Horn of Africa rose to a record high in January, in spite of the deployment of numerous warships. Twenty-three ships were attacked, three successfully hijacked. The previous monthly high, in September 2008, was only 16 attacks. To justify the naval mission, the EU explained, in its assessment of the "Atalanta" anti-pirate mission, that at least they had been able to lower the pirates' success rate. In spite of the hijacking of the German liquid gas tanker, "Longchamp," the German Bundeswehr also rates the naval mission as successful.[1] During a visit on board the Frigate "Rheinland-Pfalz" in the Gulf of Aden, General Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Bundeswehr Inspector General in charge of the mission command, attested to the troops' "maritime self-confidence and optimism." The Navy is "well equipped to successfully fulfill its mission, which is so important to us" summarized the Inspector General.[2]


Linked to the fight against pirates, the international competition for military control of this important maritime trade route off the east coast of Africa is continuing, with a growing number of participants. By the end of 2008, there were already more than ten warships on mission including NATO and EU units, as well as warships from Russia, India, Pakistan, the US and one from Iran.[3] At the end of December, another two destroyers and a supply vessel set sail from the People's Republic of China for the Gulf of Aden. In the meantime, a formidable military contingent has assembled at the Horn of Africa - two dozen warships from more than a dozen countries.[4] Helping to make up this armada, four frigates from Europe are cruising in the context of the EU operation in this crisis region, including the German frigate "Rheinland-Pfalz." In addition, several warships are on patrol, in the context of the US-led "Operation Enduring Freedom" (OEF), including the German frigate "Mecklenburg-Vorpommern."

Leadership Controversy

In the near future, the number of warships at the Horn of Africa will again rise. Last Tuesday, Turkey sent a frigate in the direction of the Gulf of Aden. Also the South Korean Navy intends to send a destroyer, still this month, and at the beginning of March, two Japanese destroyers are supposed to follow. Other EU countries - Italy and the Netherlands - have already announced their intentions to send units to the region. This is sharpening the controversy over military leadership. The USA has created its own counterpart to the EU mission, the multinational Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), that is supposed to operate from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, under the command of a US officer. The US alliance is seductive to EU members. A Danish ship has officially joined the US-led CTF-151. Also the frigate, dispatched from the EU-candidate Turkey, will join the US alliance.

Operative Possibilities

Russia's navy is currently playing a special role. It is preparing to have a permanent presence in North Africa and the Near East. As the Navy's commanding staff announced, already "in an few years" it will have naval bases in Yemen (Socrota), in Syria (Tartus) and in Libya (Tripoli). Moscow is planning "a system of naval bases in distant regions" to "effectively counter" current and potential security threats, a naval representative said. The "Russian Navy's operative possibilities will be enhanced," if it has its own naval base in the Mediterranean - where Russian war ships have again been patrolling - a fleet admiral declared.[5] Last October, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi offered Moscow a naval base. The offer was received with great interest.

In Step With the Times

German military and government officials are also working to enhance their operative possibilities. Experts from the German coalition government would like to use the occasion to extend the authority of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND). Until now, the BND has not been permitted to wiretap German citizens abroad. The current law is "not in step with the times," one learns, which is why parliament must amend the law during this legislature. The struggle against pirates off the Somali coast - and against hostage-takers in other countries - requires that the BND be allowed to localize and tap the phones of Germans abroad.[6]

Five Years are not Enough

In addition, the Navy is preparing the general public to accept the permanent presence of German warships along the maritime trade routes at the Horn of Africa. "MarineForum", the magazine of the Association of Naval Officers - "a bestseller for all those who feel close to the maritime location Germany" - takes a stand against a withdrawal: "It is evident that pirates would increase their activities immediately after the withdrawal of warships. A presence of two or three, even five years would not suffice to stop a ‘centuries-old regional tradition'."[7]

Please read also Expeditionary Navy and A Real Pirate Movie.

[1] Geringere Gefahr: Marine-Einsatz gegen Piraten erfolgreich; Tagesspiegel 26.01.2009. Deutsche Marine nennt Anti-Piraten-Mission Erfolg; Spiegel online 30.01.2009
[2] Generalinspekteur besucht Fregatte Rheinland-Pfalz im Einsatzgebiet; 16.02.2009
[3] see also Aufmarsch vor Somalia
[4] Mission: Piratenjagd; 14.02.2009
[5] Strategische Häfen: Russen planen angeblich neue Marinestützpunkte; Welt online 16.01.2009
[6] Koalitionsfraktionen wollen BND auf Geiselnehmer ansetzen; AFP 03.02.2009
[7] Die aktuelle Lage am Horn von Afrika;