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Under the sober title NITEX (Niedersächsische Terrorismusabwehr Exercise), the premiere of a comprehensive exercise for the German security forces to deal with a maritime threat took place on Thursday, August 22. The participants were the Oldenburg Water Police Inspectorate, the North Alliance of the Special Operations Command (SEK) (comprising Lower Saxony, Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg), GSG 9, the Federal Police, the Port Authority of Lower Saxony and the Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger (the German affiliation of the International Maritime Rescue Federation). From the German Navy the combat support ship BONN, a Sea King Helicopter and staff of Einsatzflottille 2 were involved (due to the character of the exercise much information stayed confidential). The Oldenburg Police Headquarters exercised command and control. It is the Headquarters responsible for such scenarios in the coastal area of Lower Saxony. A total of about 400 police forces, 29 ships and four helicopters were deployed.

The scenario was based upon an intended terrorist attack on the port facilities in Wilhelmshaven. The cargo ship CAP SAN DIEGO, usually a museum ship in the port of Hamburg, leased for the exercise, was captured by terrorists. Aboard FGS BONN, the special police units could be brought into the immediate vicinity of the freighter and were launched for their counter operation. The SEK forces took the CAP SAN DIEGO and with their access measures ensured the restoration of security on board. The place of action was the Jade estuary.

NITEX has been conceived in a 10-month preparation period. The day prior to the exercise at sea, a staff exercise preceded during which the deployment was prepared conceptually and logistically. The focus was particularly on the approval procedures between the police and the Bundeswehr.

Apart from the deployment on the high seas as practiced here, already representing a particular challenge even for experienced special forces, the type of cooperation – Navy supporting the police in coping in an assumed terrorist threat scenario – is the first of its kind. Not for the Bundeswehr. At the beginning of March 2017, the police forces of several federal states conducted a joint exercise with the Bundeswehr based on simulated terrorist attacks in several federal states (GETEX 2017).


Constitutional Aspects and Exercise Requirements

Article 35, paragraph 2, sentence 2 of the Basic Law (Germany’s Constitution) provides for the internal employment and deployment of the Bundeswehr only in the event of a natural disaster or a particularly serious accident. In the case-law of the Federal Constitutional Court, a particularly serious accident in this sense is generally understood as “a major loss event” (BVerfG, judgment of the First Senate of February 15, 2006, 1 BvR 357/05, para. 98). In the broad interpretation of terms required for effective disaster control in the opinion of the court (according to the case-law (loc. cit.) and interpretation (BVerfG, resolution of the plenum of July 3, 2012, 2 PBvU 1/11, para. 43)), this also includes terrorist attacks.

Such exercises are necessary in order to promote the cooperation of the authorities, organisations and units involved, without immediately threatening to turn internal security into a task for the armed forces – which is historically very sensitive in Germany. Based on historical experience German people and politicians are strictly against any military operation in their own country. German soldiers helping police officers has been literally unthinkable for decades following WWII. Therefore these are first small steps to change the way German people think about any cooperation of police and military forces. The aim of exercises such as NITEX is to review procedures and decision-making processes in a situation in which it is no longer possible to react exclusively with police forces to terrorist threats because of its scale. If, in such a case, the possible recourse to the Bundeswehr’s resources within the framework of constitutional law were waived, the authorities concerned would not fulfil their protective mandate. In this respect, the exercises serve to optimise processes, to know the interfaces, to make the corners and edges smooth in order to be prepared for an emergency and to be able to intervene effectively. After all, it is a matter of protecting the population, the life and health of the citizens.


Police First – Navy Nevertheless Necessary

Johann Kühme, President of the Oldenburg Police Directorate, stated that this first joint run had provided a great deal of experience, which had strengthened the operational experience and increased the ability of all participants. He expressly thanked the German Navy.

“Despite the careful work of the security authorities, a terrorist attack like that of today’s scenario can never be ruled out. All the more important was this exercise in order to be optimally prepared for such a scenario and to be able to protect people. Today we have successfully tested all relevant systems of the security authorities in a very unusual situation,” said Boris Pistorius, Lower Saxony’s Minister of the Interior and Sports, who followed the NITEX from aboard the BONN.

The minister emphasized that “the first and foremost responsibility for internal security in Lower Saxony lies with the police of Lower Saxony.” Nevertheless, the exercise had also confirmed that the police could, under certain circumstances, be dependent on the support of the navy both in terms of personnel and logistics when dealing with a terrorist threat in the maritime sector. “In such a catastrophe, we would, under the applicable conditions of the Basic Law, make use of any meaningful support available, for example from the Bundeswehr,” added Pistorius.

The need for recourse to naval resources and capabilities applies to operations in coastal areas – after all, the territorial sea is part of the German territory. In Germany, the 12-mile zone has been in force since 1994. In accordance with Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, deep-water shipping in the German Bight west of Helgoland is also part of the territorial sea. While GETEX has already shown where there is a need for optimisation in the interaction between the security forces and the Bundeswehr, intervention by sea offer further key points. And beyond the actual exercise, other scenarios are conceivable. In this respect – in the light of an efficient national defence – it is desirable that after this groundbreaking step the process will continue. Likewise, a relaxed dealing with the internal use of the Bundeswehr in these cases.


No Acute Threat

The Minister pointed out that the exercise was not linked to any specific hazard warnings. Nevertheless, in view of the current danger situation in the Federal Republic of Germany in general, one has to be prepared for many scenarios.


Navy: Successful Exercise

The Commander of Einsatzflottille 2, Rear Admiral (lower half) Ralf Kuchler, positively commented the joint exercise. Firstly, NITEX allowed both Police forces and Navy to practice and identify what is already affordable, what is to consider and what to work for in the future. Secondly, the Admiral said, “we were able to quickly and efficiently implement and solve a large part of the problem – despite different procedures – very quickly.” Finally, with regard to the navy, for him the exercise provided “valuable clues” on how to position itself “in a subsidiary role” “to better support federal / state governments in the event of a request for assistance.” (Remark: Germany’s police is operating on federal level and on level of each individual state (Bundesland)).

Hans Uwe Mergener