Friday, October 20, 2006

Polish Navy attacks unarmed German merchant ship

Over booze and smokes?
Nobody would ever accuse Poland and Germany of having an easy relationship. But things have rarely escalated to this degree.

In an incident just now hitting the German front pages, the Polish coast guard fired on a private German cruise ship on Tuesday as it fled Polish waters with two plainclothes customs officials from Poland on board. Whether the shots were merely blanks, as the Polish claim, or whether live ammunition was used, as the head of the German cruise company alleges, remains unclear. Regardless, the incident threatens to escalate into a full-scale diplomatic tiff.
There are some parts of the world where things just keep coming up in such interesting ways. OK, kind of lame considering their history..but still.
The tale starts with a simple cruise. The "Adler Dania," was on its way to visit the Polish Baltic Sea port of Swinoujscie and hoping to sell some duty free alcohol and cigarettes to its predominantly German passengers on the way. Hardly an unheard of mission in the Baltic Sea.

Inasmuch as the ship's itinerary included a brief stop in Poland, Polish plainclothes customs officials boarded the ship in the German port of Heringsdorf to have a closer look. They waited until the ship had entered the port of Swinoujscie before making their move.

It didn't go well. According to the German captain -- as related to SPIEGEL ONLINE by the Adler shipping company's director Alwin Muller -- the two Polish customs officials presented questionable identification and demanded to inspect the ship's alcohol and cigarette supplies. The captain, Heinz Arendt, thereupon elected to turn his ship around and bolt for German waters. He was apparently concerned, in light of the customs raid, that the ship's entire stock of goodies would be confiscated were he to land at the port. It has happened before, the cruise company complains.

The two sides in the altercation have competing versions as to what happened next. Muller claims that three to four shots were fired on the ship from a hand-held weapon. A spokesman for the Polish coast guard assured SPIEGEL ONLINE that only two warning shots from a flare gun were fired.
Shots fired. Cloak and dagger. Trade disputes. Wars have started over less. In the 21 Century, you would think people wouldn't do such things. Ahhh. But do national habits really die that hard? The Germans, as is their nature, pulled their trump card.
The Polish side claims that the ship actually landed in Swinoujscie (NB: that is Swinemunde for you Germanophiles out there. Check the map, natch, to most Germans that is occupied Pomerania)-- leading the Polish press to breathlessly claim that the Polish customs officials were prevented from disembarking against their will. Reuters has even reported that kidnapping charges were to be filed against Captain Arendt. Charges have already been filed against the Germans for attempting to dodge customs and hindering customs officials from doing their jobs.

Au contraire, counter the Germans. The Polish customs officials did not have the appropriate identification. As such, the officers are being charged with being in Germany illegally and for forcing their way into parts of the ship where passengers were not allowed.

"Vee, vould like to zee your papers, pleaze!"

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