German warship docks at Changi Naval Base in first regional deployment in 19 years

The Frigate FGS Bayern F217 while it docks at the Changi Naval Base on 21 December, 2021.
The Frigate FGS Bayern F217 while it docks at the Changi Naval Base on Dec 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
German ambassador to Singapore, Dr Norbert Riedel, speaks while aboard the Frigate FGS Bayern F217 at the Changi Naval Base on Dec 21.
German ambassador to Singapore, Dr Norbert Riedel, speaks while aboard the Frigate FGS Bayern F217 at the Changi Naval Base on Dec 21. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - German frigate Bayern arrived in Singapore on Monday (Dec 20) as part of a six-month deployment to the Asia-Pacific region - the first such tasking for the German navy in nearly two decades.

The warship will be docked at Changi Naval Base for two weeks over the Christmas and New Year period for replenishment and maintenance, as well as rest for more than 200 sailors on board.

Since setting off from its home port in Wilhelmshaven in August, the frigate has sailed across the South China Sea before arriving in Singapore, and is scheduled to continue its voyage to Vietnam from early January.

Speaking at a welcome reception for the ship on Tuesday, German Ambassador to Singapore Norbert Riedel said the stop in Singapore is significant given the many shared commonalities between the two countries.

More than 2,000 German companies here provide more than 45,000 jobs, and this forms the backbone of the two nations' economic partnership, he added.

"The arrival of the Bayern demonstrates a further strengthening of cooperation in the field of security and defence policy," he told crew and reporters on the ship.

Singapore shares with Germany a desire to preserve the Indo-Pacific as an area of security, stability and freedom, he said.

"Our common belief in a rules-based multilateral order extends to shared responsibility in upholding international law in the realm of security and the freedom of navigation of international waters," added Dr Riedel.

In an opinion piece on the Bayern's deployment published in The Straits Times on Monday, Dr Riedel said Germany is "particularly concerned by the assertion of unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea", although he did not name any particular country.

The deployment of the Bayern from August to February next year - the first to the region since 2002 - comes after Germany issued policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region in September last year.

The paper set out plans for Germany to step up engagement in Asia, including through expanding its security and defence cooperation with regional partners, such as through dialogues, bilateral visits and participation in exercises.

Also present at the welcome event on Tuesday was the German Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Kay-Achim Schonbach, who is on an introductory visit to Singapore from Dec 19 to 22.

German Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, speaks while aboard the Frigate FGS Bayern F217 at the Changi Naval Base on Dec 21.
German Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Kay-Achim Schonbach, speaks while aboard the Frigate FGS Bayern F217 at the Changi Naval Base on Dec 21. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Speaking to reporters, he said the deployment of Bayern is "just a teaser", and more ships can be expected from 2023.

"The next time we want to have two ships, one frigate and one auxiliary because all the repair teams and the spare parts are easier to transport with an auxiliary than just putting it all on one frigate," he added.

Asked why the Bayern did not sail in the Taiwan Strait, Vice-Admiral Schonbach said Germany's first naval deployment to the region in 19 years should not start "with a hammer".

"This time we start with smaller steps, but the next time - on the decision by the government of Germany - probably we pass on a bilateral basis on the Taiwan Strait."

Beijing has repeatedly raised opposition to transits by United States warships in the sensitive Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from mainland China.

Speaking later at a forum organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies at The Fullerton Hotel, Vice-Admiral Schonbach said he hopes to conduct regular German maritime deployments in future. 

This could be with other European and trans-Atlantic partner navies, he said, adding that it would ultimately be a political decision. 

Germany is in discussions with its partners, including  the Singapore navy, to establish a non-permanent logistic support hub to facilitate future deployments, he said. 

Bayern is one of four German Brandenburg-class frigates mainly used for anti-submarine warfare, but also for surface-to-surface and anti-aircraft operations.

German crew members mingle aboard the helipad of the Frigate FGS Bayern F217 while it docks at the Changi Naval Base on Dec 21.
German crew members mingle aboard the helipad of the Frigate FGS Bayern F217 while it docks at the Changi Naval Base on Dec 21. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN's) Fleet Commander, Rear-Admiral Saw Shi Tat, said at the event at the Bayern on Tuesday that the two navies have significantly strengthened bilateral engagements over the past decade.

The RSN currently deploys a project team and two sets of submarine crew in the port city of Kiel for training and operation of its latest Type 218SG submarines, he said.

Singapore operates four refurbished submarines that are slated to be replaced by those made in Germany from 2022.

"Both our navies are committed to deepening our bilateral relations, and we look forward to further strengthening the depth and breadth of our cooperation in existing and new areas of common interests."

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