Minister sees off frigate headed for the Indo-Pacific
Minister sees off frigate headed for the Indo-Pacific
- Lower Saxony
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About 30,000 nautical miles lie ahead of frigate “Bayern”, leaving her home port for the Indo-Pacific on 2 August. The Federal Minister of Defence, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the Kiel Navy Band, international press, as well as friends and family bid the more than 230 crew members farewell.
“Your service is met with approval and respect! Come back safe and sound,” Minister of Defence Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the crew of frigate “Bayern” on its flight deck, bidding them farewell. At two o’clock in the afternoon, the German warship unmoored and left Wilhelmshaven on schedule, heading for the Indo-Pacific. The crew will be underway for more than six months.
This voyage, which serves to demonstrate naval presence and to conduct military training, is a special one: the last time the German Navy called at ports like Singapore or Tokyo was in 2002. The “Bayern” herself has not visited the region since 1997.
Staying on course in heavy weather
“The headwind is getting stronger, but we will stay true to our course,” Kramp-Karrenbauer encouraged the crew of the “Bayern”. “In view of attempts to curtail the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific and to assert territorial claims by force, showing presence is of political importance,” she added.
The Indo-Pacific region is the most dynamic growth region in the world. The sea routes traversing this area are also very relevant for Germany because a sizable portion of world trade is routed through them. For this reason, Asia is also a key region in strategic terms.
One thing the Minister wanted to emphasize in particular: “Our mission in the Indo-Pacific does not mean that we are opposed to someone or something, but that we are taking a united stand for something.” She added that the partners in the region are looking forward to welcoming the “Bayern”.
Furthermore, Germany has also offered a visit to China in order to maintain the dialogue. In today’s globalised world, networking plays an important role, also and in particular via the “blue arteries”. In this context, the Minister explained, the contribution of frigate “Bayern” extended beyond the Indo-Pacific region: “By supporting operations Sea Guardian and Atalanta within the framework set by the EU and NATO, the ‘Bayern’ also makes an important contribution to maritime security and the fight against piracy, weapons trafficking, and terrorism.”
Taking a stand for a rules-based order
“Always keep in mind that you are sailing for the Federal Republic of Germany down there, and fulfil your duty”, the German chief of navy, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, told his sailors in a message of greeting. “The objective is to show that Germany stands up for the freedom of navigation and for upholding international law in the region, side by side with its international partners,” he added.
For this reason, frigate “Bayern” is also tasked with monitoring the sanctions imposed by the United Nations against North Korea. Other assignments during the mission include joint exercises with partner forces.
In her speech on board, the Minister referenced a recent statement by Vice Admiral Schönbach that it was time for the German Navy to step out of its comfort zone. This, she added, was exactly what the crew of the “Bayern” was doing. “These next seven months will be your personal contribution to ensuring that this demand by the Chief of the German Navy is implemented”, the Minister encouraged the crew.
The objectives of the Indo-Pacific guidelines published by the Federal Government in September 2020 are key to this mission: intensifying international cooperation, supporting partners in the region, and maintaining the rules-based maritime order.
Farewell with music and tears
While the Kiel Navy Band is playing at the departure of the frigate, some family members on the pier are shedding tears. However, they are also very proud of their servicemen and women on board.
Saying goodbye is hard both for crew members and for their friends and family. Commander Tilo Kalski, commanding officer of the “Bayern”, explains: “The biggest challenge for each person on board is organizing and managing 200 more days of separation from their family and friends, after already having been absent for more than 100 days this year.”
The first important task of the frigate’s complement is to fully integrate the embarked service members from other units, such as the Naval Air Wing 5 or the Sea Battalion, as quickly as possible. “What I expect from the crew is that we stand together and jointly tackle the additional challenges and uncertainties of the global pandemic development – which may include not having shore leave”, the CO adds.
First and last sea voyage
For Commander Kalski himself, this is the second voyage to the region: “After this year’s voyage to the Indo-Pacific, my service at sea in the German Navy will end after 17 years. My professional journey, which began with the Asia tour I undertook as a young officer candidate in 1997, thus comes full circle in a special way. I will always remember that tour and this year’s mission will likewise become an unforgettable mental souvenir for all crew members.”
For the ship’s surgeon, Ulrike S., this will be the first long voyage and she is very much looking forward to it: “Participating in a sea voyage like this is always an honour and I am especially lucky to be on this ship at this particular moment. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Travelling halfway around the globe and back as an independent unit
In contrast to 1997, when four German naval vessels travelled together as a maritime task group, this time the “Bayern” will be sailing all by herself. For the frigate, travelling to the other end of the world as an independent unit is a logistic challenge, her CO explains: “This tour
requires a massive amount of planning and organization involving various agencies, institutions, and companies, both at home and abroad, basically in every country along the scheduled route.”
The voyage will lead the “Bayern” through the North Sea and the English Channel to the North-East Atlantic and from there through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Mediterranean Sea. The ship will then transit the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea, cross the open Indian Ocean and reach the West Pacific in autumn.
On the return journey, the frigate will pass through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. Eventually, having travelled more than 30,000 nautical miles, the vessel will end its Indo-Pacific Deployment at its home port Wilhelmshaven in February 2022.