A very sombre day in Madeira as Admiral Gouveia e Melo
A very sombre day in Madeira as Admiral Gouveia e Melo confronts the garrison whose 13 crewmembers refused to set out on a mission on Saturday March 11. Image: Homem de Gouveia/ Lusa

Navy without sailors for all its ships

Mutiny on the Mondego highlights parlous state of Portuguese Navy 

With the disciplinary fate of the 13 sailors who refused a mission on NRP Mondego still very much unclear, Expresso today has run with the story that the Portuguese Navy is without sailors for all its ships.

‘Mutiny on the Mondego’ has simply served to bring this compromising detail to the public space – something for which the sailors themselves may now face criminal prosecution.

Correio da Manhã, for example, suggests today that the 13 men could not only face charges for insubordination and overriding of the functions of the ship’s commander, but violation of “the reserve necessary over the state of military equipment”.

At issue is the fact that in listing all the Mondego’s operational problems, and issues of failed maintenance checks over the last 500 days, these are now “known by the whole world” (in the words of Admiral of the fleet Gouveia e Melo).

The Admiral travelled to Madeira yesterday to confront the 13 “in the eyes, face to face”, says the paper, and is understood to have asked them what their motivations were in prompting this incident.

“Whose interests were you defending? Certainly to the Navy’s, even less your own”, is how the paper explains the head of the Armada’s approach.

Thus, violation of secrecy could be a new crime to add to the inquiry that is being undertaken now by PJ military police.

Meantime, Expresso carries a full page on this incident, explaining: “The problems of the Navy are serious and difficult to resolve – from maintenance to the retention of personnel”.

Yes, there is a new law approved in this week’s Council of Ministers to revise the programming of financial support to the military, but it cannot be expected to bring instant results. Thus Gouveia e Melo’s overriding message that the Navy’s hierarchy and the government are focused on doing everything they can, but interventions of the kind suffered in Madeira last Saturday are not helpful in any way, shape or form.

Says Expresso, “according to numbers in an official document presented in December by the Admiral in a parliamentary meeting on defence behind closed doors, 458 contracted sailors abandoned the Navy in 2022: an average of 1.3 per day”.

The document also explained that the government did not authorise the replacement of these sailors. “The Navy proposed 397 admissions for 2022, but the Ministry of Defence, in a joint dispatch with the (Ministry of) Finances only authorised the admission of 238.

“The difference in this lack of 159 sailors corresponds to crewmembers for two frigates” a source tells the paper.

Lack of personnel affects the three arms of the Armed Forces (Navy, Army, Air Force). 

The problem is only not more apparent in the Navy because this crisis also affects ships. 

“If four of the five frigates were ready and operational (only two are fully operational) Gouveia e Melo would not have enough personnel for the crews”, explains Expresso.

Worse, the same document suggested that if the number of sailors leaving the service continues “at the same rhythm” by 2027 the Navy will only have 1,218 ‘praças’ (lower ranks), which is the absolute minimum required.

In other words, there are endless issues – and insubordination does not help any of them.

“The Navy cannot forget, ignore or forgive indisciplinary acts, whether sailors are tired, demotivated, or concerned over their own realities”, said the Admiral. As a result, the 13 sailors of the Mondego face a very tough moment in their careers.

Says Expresso, the men have not taken up the offer of legal help from military associations, instead hiring their own lawyer, Paulo Graça, who has told Correio da Manhã that there are facts in this situation that “have not been published, and others with interpretation different to that of the Navy”.

Paulo Graça criticises Admiral Gouveia e Melo for “not being partial” and has described the situation of his 13 clients as having “their liberty limited for the last five days. They are being slowly cooked…”

The men are due to be heard by PJ military police in Lisbon on Monday at 10am, while a Naval inquiry has concluded that, with all its various technical faults, the NRP Mondego was nonetheless in a position in which “the mission could have been performed in safety”.

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