EU Launches Mission to Protect Maritime Traffic in Red Sea

brussels — The European Union on Monday officially launched its mission to protect maritime traffic in the Red Sea, which has been disrupted by Houthi rebel attacks, the European Commission president said.

Several countries have expressed their intention to participate in this mission, called Aspides (“shield” in ancient Greek), including Belgium, Italy, Germany and France. Spain has indicated that it will not participate.

“Europe will ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, in coordination with our international partners,” EC President Ursula von der Leyen posted on X from an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.

“We have just approved the launch of the naval military operation Aspides, of which Italy will have command of the forces,” Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani confirmed on X. 

The mission is planned for one year but may be renewed.

It will be up to the mission’s command to determine when it will have sufficient resources to be fully operational. That should take “a few weeks,” according to a European diplomat. 

The German frigate Hessen left on February 8 for the Red Sea, with a crew of 240. It will be in a state of permanent alert and will be able to respond to possible attacks with remotely controlled missiles, drones and boats.

Greek general command  

Belgium has announced its intention to send its frigate Marie-Louise. France has said it is ready to make one of its frigates already present in the Red Sea available to the Aspides mission. 

The EU agreed in January on the principle of a maritime surveillance and patrol mission in the Red Sea, provided that its mandate was purely defensive. 

Greece will assume general command of this mission and Italy will assume operational command at sea, a European diplomatic source explained Friday. 

It will be able to fire to defend merchant ships or defend itself but will not be able to target objectives on land against Houthi rebel positions in Yemen, according to diplomats.  

The Houthis, who control large areas of Yemen, say they have been carrying out attacks on ships in the Red Sea in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where Israel is waging war against Gaza’s Hamas rulers in retaliation for an October 7 attack on Israel.  

These attacks in the Red Sea triggered retaliatory strikes by U.S. and British forces, the latest of which took place Saturday.  

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