German defence officials yesterday ordered its navy’s prestigious three-masted training-ship to break from its round-the-world voyage and dock in Argentina, as ministry staff flew in to investigate reports of a mutiny after a female recruit plunged to her death.
The Gorch Fock, a square-rigged sailing ship, has been used for training recruits since 1958. But a leaked parliamentary report revealed crew members mutinied against officers after the cadet fell 24m from a mast and died from her injuries.
“These are grave allegations,” a member of the Defence Ministry’s naval staff said.
The report said that after the 25-year-old’s death in November, her shipmates refused to obey orders to climb into the rigging. The captain, Norbert Schatz, was reported to have accused four officer-cadets of “lack of co-operation with the command” and ordered them to be flown back to Germany, claiming they had “mutinied and incited the crew”. The parliamentary liaison officer said the cadets had been put under “great pressure” to climb the rigging of the ship to take in or set its sails. One instructor was alleged to have told them: “If you don’t go up, you’ll fly home the next day.”
Captain Schatz was also reported to have commented about present-day navy cadets’ reluctance to climb the rigging. “As a boy, I used to climb the cherry trees in our neighbour’s garden. Young people don’t sit in cherry trees any more, they sit in front of computers.”
The alleged mutiny is thought to be behind the captain’s decision to fly the entire ship’s company of 70 officer-cadets back to Germany from the Brazilian port of Salvador de Bahia. The cadet crew was replaced by professional sailors. They had been on a return voyage to Germany via Cape Horn.
Cadets go aloft without safety lines, but wear harnesses which they clip on to the rigging.