Germany's defence minister,
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who faces a storm of opposition protest over an alleged "mutiny" on a Navy training ship, said Monday the sailing vessel's captain had been stood down, not fired, dpa reported.
Guttenberg, a photogenic aristocrat who consistently tops polls as the most popular politician in Germany, removed Norbert Schatz from his command of the three-masted Gorch Fock last Friday.
"If the allegations turn out to be unfounded, he will continue his career as planned," the minister said Monday.
Amid the widening political row, Guttenberg won support from his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Steffen Siebert, her spokesman, said she had "expressly supported" Guttenberg during his decision-making. Guttenberg had a ministerial responsibility to investigate what happened on the boat, he said.
ARD television and other media reported anger among Navy personnel at the weekend reports that ship commanding officer Schatz had been fired. Schatz allegedly had told officer cadets they could face mutiny charges for complaining.
The conflict on the three-master blew up after a woman cadet was killed by a fall during drills November 7 in a Brazilian port and some shaken cadets did not want to repeat the rig-climbing drill.
In a written statement to the media, Guttenberg said the captain had been been relieved of his duties during an inquiry, not "fired," "hounded out," or "kicked out" as reported in the media. Relieving from duties was a term in military employment law, he said.
He said some politicians' and media comments on this "appropriate and necessary" decision had "demonstrated extraordinary ignorance."
Guttenberg said Berlin's response was still in the investigative stage and his sole decision so far had revolved around whether to keep Schatz in command during the investigative phase or not.
Schatz would resume the command if he were found blameless. The ship had been put under the command of the Navy investigator.