Germans accuse U.S. of 'piracy,' seek military involvement over shipment of masks rerouted to the United States

Politico published an interesting story today about an international squabble over an order of masks. It started with an order for 200,000 masks which were destined to be given to police in Berlin, Germany. An order was placed with a supplier in Asia and the masks were paid for in advance. But the shipment from Thailand was redirected at the last moment, allegedly to the United States. Some German officials are really angry about it and are blaming President Trump.


This tweet from Berlin’s mayor reads, “The actions of the US president are anything but solidary and responsible. It is inhumane and unacceptable. The Federal Government must insist on compliance with international rules even in times of the corona pandemic against the USA.”

A German interior minister called it an act of “piracy.” The city of Berlin went so far as to ask for the Germany military to get involved to protect future shipments:

The Berlin city government has asked the German military for assistance in securing the transport of surgical masks and other protective medical clothing after conflicting reports about the mysterious disappearance of 200,000 face masks Berlin had bought for its police department…

Another senior Berlin city government official, Interior Minister Andreas Geisel, had criticised the United States on Friday, saying that 200,000 FFP2 masks made by American firm 3M in China had been “confiscated” at Bangkok’s airport with “wild west methods”.

There’s just one problem with the story. It doesn’t seem to be true, at least not completely. Berlin did place an order for masks and the masks were not shipped, but the story the Germans got from the supplier doesn’t add up:


Just as the masks, which had been paid for in advance, were about to be dispatched from Bangkok to Germany, the order was redirected to the U.S., according to Martin Pallgen, a spokesman for Berlin’s interior ministry.

But Pallgen and other Berlin officials are relying on information provided by the unnamed supplier, who they say told the city’s police department that the masks were redirected as a result of a “U.S. directive.”

The “U.S. directive” in question was Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act against 3M. So the story briefly appeared to make sense. However, 3M says it has no record of any such order or indication of any order being redirected from Germany.

3M told Germany’s dpa news agency that it had no reports of masks being seized, nor any paperwork on such a shipment destined for Berlin.

The denial comes after Berlin’s regional interior minister, Andreas Geisel, on Friday accused the US of “modern piracy” for having confiscated the FFP-2 respirators, intended for use by police officers in the capital. He said the masks, which were reportedly manufactured in China, had been paid for.

The Germans have responded by denying they claimed 3M was involved. They claim the media added that detail. But 3M is the only company Trump invoked the DPA against. So if the order wasn’t with 3M then the masks weren’t redirected as part of a “U.S. directive” from the White House. But it appears the Germans are too mad to care about the facts at this point:


Berlin says it never claimed 3M was involved (it was “the media” that did) and doesn’t know who the manufacturer of the missing masks was…

“Whether they were confiscated or cancelled or if someone came with a suitcase full of cash and redirected them to the U.S., our masks ended up in the U.S.,” Geisel said, offering no further details or evidence.

There is a premium on masks in the marketplace right now. It seems possible someone offered the supplier a lot more money and they decided to take the extra cash and tell the Germans a story about President Trump ordering them to redirect the shipment. So far, no one has been able to identify where the masks in question went so the buyer remains a mystery, at least for now.

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