A “Swiss Army Knife” in Action

May 4, 2021 (Google Translation) – Civil war has been raging in Libya for ten years. With Resolution 2509 (2020), the UN passed an embargo on arms deliveries against Libya. The aim is to stop the illegal arms trade and thereby remove a basis for the conflict. Germany has been participating in the European Union Naval Forces Mediterranean Irini mission with floating and flying units of the Navy since 2020 – and thus also in enforcing the embargo. The task force supplier ( EGVTask Force Suppliers) “Berlin” involved in the mission. A supplier? Sounds unusual, but there are good reasons.

Anyone who hears the term “task force supplier” as a layperson probably first thinks of logistics. That is also fundamentally correct. The “Berlin” was put into service as a supply ship on April 11, 2001 as the first of her class. The idea at the time envisaged being able to supply a maritime task force on the high seas with everything they needed: from fuel and water to food and ammunition. Its hull can hold up to 8,000 cubic meters of fuel – that’s eight million liters, which would be enough to fill more than 130,000 medium-sized cars.

Two ships can be refueled at the same time during the journey. This process is called Replenishment at Seaand looks lighter than it is. Thousands of tons of steel move parallel to each other at an average distance of 40 meters for hours. Up to ten cubic meters of fuel per minute shoot through the hoses, which are routed from ship to ship on thick wires: the volume of a bathtub every second. A demolition could have dangerous consequences for people, ships and, last but not least, the environment. Maximum concentration of all those involved is therefore a basic requirement for this maneuver. As an alternative to tank hoses, loads can also be moved back and forth on the wires, for example pallets with food and people. But refueling and supply are just two of the ship’s many functions.

The marine light gun: 27 mm caliber ammunition, operated by joystick from a protected space inside the ship.
Bundeswehr/Alexander Klebba

About 220 soldiers are currently serving on the “Berlin” during the mission. It goes without saying that someone needs medical care from time to time. This ranges from seasickness to an injury to, in the worst case, a wound. The ship therefore has a ship hospital with a ship’s doctor and other medical staff. In addition, the “Berlin” is equipped with a marine rescue center (MERZ). The MERZ is mounted on the ship as a container module and offers treatment rooms for other doctors, for example a surgeon, an anesthetist and a dentist – additionally supplemented by nursing staff, surgical and anesthetic assistants and medical device technicians. This increases the range of medical care on board and on the high seas enormously. One order is the first emergency medical surgical treatment, the stabilization of patients and their preparation for onward transport to a hospital. This can, for example, with one of the two on-board helicopters of the typeSea Lynx .

In addition to the possibility of transporting personnel or material, the helicopters have the task of “expanding horizons”. The curvature of the earth limits the range of vision from the command bridge of the “Berlin” and the far-reaching view with the radar is also subject to physical restrictions. The helicopters can operate far away from their platform and in this way increase the visibility considerably. The “Berlin” has two Sea Lynx helicopters for this purposefrom Marinefluggeschwader 5 from Nordholz on board. These clarify what cannot be seen from the ship and provide important initial information. This includes, for example, answers to the following questions: What does the ship you are looking for look like up close? What about after the sighting? Is it in good shape? Are there options for landing on board or removing personnel using the fast rope method, i.e. by abseiling quickly? These are important questions that have to be clarified before the soldiers of the on-board operations team can board the ship: Safety always comes first.

The current mission of “Berlin” is primarily to enforce the arms embargo against Libya. That doesn’t just mean finding ships suspected of carrying illegal weapons. Rather, the on-board operations team has to go on board to get an impression of the ship and crew and of course the cargo. It’s not that easy on the high seas. The embarked Lithuanian on-board emergency team basically has two options for boarding another ship: by helicopter or by speedboat. Both options require maximum concentration and physical performance, because the soldiers wear a heavy protective vest, helmet and a weapon. A wrong step or a mistake could quickly become a serious danger,

Once on board, the team secures itself and establishes contact with the captain: information gathering is always on the team’s order form. This applies both to the friendly approach, i.e. a friendly visit with the consent of the captain, as well as to boarding, a control of the ship and the cargo. The soldiers on the airborne team must therefore also be specialists in clearing up conversations.

Even if conducting a battle at sea is not one of the primary tasks of a task force provider, the crew of the “Berlin” would still know how to defend themselves in an emergency. With light marine guns with a caliber of 27 mm, with heavy machine guns and with defensive means against attacks from the air, the ship has sufficient self-protection against speedboats or airplanes. The soldiers of the weapon groups are responsible for maintaining and using the weapons. For them, regular target practice and gun cleaning are part of their routine. Because at sea, especially during an operation, the weapons are always ready for action.

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