EU launches non-military mission to protect cargo ships in Red Sea from Houthi attacks

The European Union’s mission will accompany vessels to protect them against possible multi-domain attacks in the Red Sea

February 19, 2024 06:22 pm | Updated 06:46 pm IST - BRUSSELS

Houthi rebels have used drones and missile attacks on commercial ships over Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas which began in October. File

Houthi rebels have used drones and missile attacks on commercial ships over Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas which began in October. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

The European Union has launched a naval mission to help protect cargo ships in the Red Sea on February 19 as attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to threaten maritime traffic, hamper trade and drive up prices.

Dubbed ‘Aspides’, Greek for “shield,” the mission will be run out of Larissa in central Greece — home to the Hellenic Air Force and a NATO headquarters — under the command of Greek Commodore Vasilios Griparis.

The Iranian-backed Houthis have waged a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships over Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas which began in October. However, the Yemen-based rebels have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperilling shipping in a key route for global trade between Asia and Europe.

In response, U.S. and British forces have bombed multiple targets used by the Houthis. However, the EU mission will not take part in any military strikes and will only operate at sea.

“Within its defensive mandate, the operation will provide maritime situational awareness, accompany vessels, and protect them against possible multi-domain attacks at sea,” EU headquarters said in a statement after the bloc's foreign ministers had endorsed the mission.

‘Global economy hit’

“The entire global economy is being hit. It’s not just European ships that are repeatedly jeopardized by Houthi missiles in the Red Sea, but the entire international shipping industry," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Brussels.

She said that apart from protecting European ships, the mission "makes it clear that we as an international community stand together in the face of attacks; terrorist attacks on the freedom of the sea lanes.” Germany is contributing a frigate to the mission, as is Belgium.

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