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EU foreign ministers approve Red Sea naval mission

February 19, 2024

European warships and airborne early warning systems are being sent to the Red Sea in response to Houthi attacks on international shipping.

Germany's "Hessen" frigate
The Red Sea mission will see European warships and aerial warning systems deployed to help protect shipping in the important international shipping areaImage: Sina Schuldt/dpa/picture alliance

European Union foreign ministers have given final approval to a naval mission to protect international shipping in the Red Sea area.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen welcomed Monday's decision and posted on social media platform X, formerly Twitter: "Europe will ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, working alongside our international partners. Beyond crisis response, it's a step towards a stronger European presence at sea to protect our European interests."

The EU-led mission, called Aspides — which is the ancient Greek word for shield — will involve sending three European warships and airborne early warning systems to the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters.

According to the German government, the EU operation covers the Strait of Bab al-Mandab, the Strait of Hormuz, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.

The German frigate "Hessen," which has around 240 personnel on board, is also planned for the mission and set sail for the region over 10 days ago.

Germany sends frigate to help secure Red Sea

Houthi attacks in Red Sea continue 

The measures come in response to increased attacks by Yemen's Houthis, who have been launching missile and drone attacks in the vital shipping corridor.

The Iran-backed Houthis stepped up attacks on vessels in the region in the wake of Israel's war in Gaza against Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the EU, the US and several other governments.

The most recent attack took place on Monday and involved the Iranian-backed group targeting a Belize-flagged, UK-registered cargo vessel.

The ship came under attack in the Bab-al-Mandab Strait off the coast of Yemen, according to British maritime security firm Ambrey.

The crew managed to abandon ship and the Houthis said the vessel was at risk of sinking.

Houthi attacks disrupt shipping 

The attacks have disrupted global shipping, and have forced shipping companies to avoid Egypt's Suez Canal, the vital waterway that connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. They instead opt for longer, costlier detours around southern Africa.

Last week, EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters that "as shipping through the Red Sea has been rerouted, delivery times for shipments between Asia and the EU have increased by 10-15 days, and the costs of these shipments have gone up by around 400%."

The attacks have particularly hit the revenues of Egypt's Suez Canal, a prime source of badly-needed foreign currency for the cash-strapped country.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said on Monday that the Suez Canal revenues shrunk by "40 to 50%" so far this year, blaming the decline on the Houthi attacks.

EU Red Sea response will be more cautious than that of US: DW's Rosie Birchard

kb/nm (dpa, AFP)