Corruption probe spoils German training ship’s 60th birthday celebration, threatens its return to sea

A ceremony to mark 60 years of service of German Navy sail training ship Gorch Fock has been postponed indefinitely amid a corruption probe related to the ship’s €135 million refit that is currently underway.

In an announcement on December 11, the German Navy said a high-profile 60th anniversary ceremony would be held on December 17.

Only three days later, the service issued another announcement saying the ceremony was being postponed after it learned that a co-worker at the Wilhelmshaven naval arsenal was being investigated for corruption related to Gorch Fock’s yard stay.

According to German media reports, the person under investigation was responsible for the “price auditing” of repairs on the ship. The fact that the Elsflether Werft yard had secured all repair contracts for the ship in the last 18 years was also brought up.

German news outlets are even indicating that the ship’s future was uncertain since repair costs are similar to costs of building a completely new sailing training ship.

Following a snap meeting on Thursday, the defense ministry announced it would stop funding the repairs until all investigations into the case were completed. The ministry revealed that 69,5 million Euro had already been invested into the repairs.

The ministry added that any decision on the sail training ship’s future would be made after the investigations are concluded.


Gorch Fock’s refit ordeal

Reparations that were to make sure Gorch Fock stays in service into the 2040s started in January 2016 and were expected to be completed in 17 weeks, at a cost of 10 million euros.

However, previously undetected damages caused delays in the schedule and increases in spending. Work stopped altogether in October 2016 with a total of 35 million euros of contracts handed out for reparations.

Germany had to decide whether to decommission the ship at that moment and search for a replacement or a ship leased from a partner navy, or continue with reparations.

In an announcement on January 26, 2017, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said the ministry would foot the bill for Gorch Fock repairs adding that the decision was influenced by the ship’s historic value. The minister also noted that this decision would give the country more time to plan for the ship’s successor.

Subsequent increases brought the repair costs first to 75 million and later to the final 135 million euros.

Commenting on the ongoing investigation, the Elsflether Werft yard said it had launched an investigation of its own in addition to bringing in an external lawyer to help with further steps. The company said, without providing specifics, that it would undertake all necessary measures to regain lost trust and confidence.

Gorch Fock was built in 1958 at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg as the sixth ship in her class and the second one to bear the name Gorch Fock. The Kiel-homeported ship cost 8.5 million DM (Deutsche Mark) in 1958.

Germany used Romanian ship Mircea to train the latest generation of its cadets earlier this year.

Photo: German Navy file photo of Gorch Fock under full sail in 2015