The German government says the German Navy should be allowed to participate in a European Union effort to fight pirates in the Gulf of Aden. But questions persist about the scope and effectiveness of the mission.
More German naval troops may be headed to the Gulf of Aden
The proposal to back the EU's Operation Atalanta was approved on Wednesday December 10 by Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet and will now face a parliamentary vote on December 19.
It would see as many as 1400 German Navy soldiers and one warship go to the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia as part of a joint EU effort to stem increasing piracy in those waters.
Previously, German warships originally deployed as part of the anti-terrorist Mission Enduring Freedom or the NATO initiative Allied Provider have been involved in deterring suspected pirates.
Operation Atalanta is the first EU-wide naval mission and comes as criminals on the high seas have made commercial and passenger traffic on one of the world's major waterways increasingly unsafe.
Cruise liners want protection
Cruise companies are demanding armed escorts
With around a dozen ships, including a massive Saudi Arabian oil tanker, still currently in the hands of pirates, German travel organizers have been demanding protection.
"We would like every cruise ship to be given an escort," the head of the German Travel Association, Hans-Gustav Koch, told the AFP news agency.
Koch said that cancelling or re-routing cruise liners was prohibitively expensive.
The government's tourism expert, Ernst Hinsken of the conservative Christian Social Union, also said that cruise ships should be accorded the same treatment as merchant vessels under Operation Atalanta.
But he also said passengers could be flown for short stretches to avoid unnecessary risks.
On Tuesday, the Hapag-Lloyd cruise company announced it was evacuating tourists from the SM Columbus for its journey through the Gulf of Aden and flying them on to resume their round-the-world cruise in safer waters.
The opposition says the operation is wide-open to abuse
But Operation Atalanta is coming in for critical scrutiny from Germany's opposition parties, which say the plan is enshrouded in a "nebulous fog."
The Greens are supporting the mission with reservations.
"We expect the government to ensure that NATO and EU states consolidate their forces," Deputer Parliamentary Spokesman Juergen Trittin and security expert Winfried Nachtwei said in a statement.
"The parallelism, confusion and conflicts between Allies engaged in three separate operations are a sign of impoverishment," they wrote.
Meanwhile, the Left Party is opposing Operation Atalanta outright.
"The proposal would restrict the Bundestag's oversight function," the party's security spokesman, Paul Schaefer, told DW-WORLD.
"The 1400 navy soldiers it includes, it is said, are more than the mission will require. But that means that they, together with German soldiers involved in Enduring Freedom and NATO's Allied Provider missions, could be moved back and forth at will, contrary to the principles of a parliamentary army," Schaefer continued.
There has also been popular criticism that allocating some 43 million euros ($55.7 million) in public finds in part to protect luxury cruise ships wastes public money.
"The whole approach is wrong," said Schafer. "The main problem in Somalia is not piracy, but rather the instability and lack of infrastructure in the entire country. A few warships off the coast cannot solve those issues. So the mission wastes taxpayers' money, regardless of whether the German Navy is used to defend supply ships or cruise liners."
All of those objections will be put forth when the German parliament, the Bundestag, votes on the proposal next week.