EU sends naval mission to Red Sea to protect shipping routes

EU sends naval mission to Red Sea to protect shipping routes
The EU's naval mission is strictly non-combative, focusing solely on maritime operations. / CC: bne IntelliNews
By bne correspondent February 19, 2024

The European Union initiated a naval mission on February 19 to safeguard cargo ships navigating the Red Sea amidst ongoing assaults by Yemen's Houthi rebels.

The Houthis pose a significant threat to maritime traffic and have repercussions for global trade and price stability.

The EU mission will not back up a British and American effort to support commercial shipping in the Bab al-Mandel strait and the Red Sea.  The EU's naval mission is strictly non-combative, focusing solely on maritime operations.

Named Aspides, meaning "shield" in Greek, the operation will be managed from Larissa, Greece, where the Hellenic Air Force and a Nato headquarters are situated. Greek Commodore Vasilios Griparis has been appointed as the commander of the mission.

The mission's launch comes in response to the Iranian-backed Houthis' continuous drone and missile attacks on commercial vessels, a campaign intensified by Israel's military actions in Gaza against Hamas that commenced in October.

Despite the Houthis' frequent targeting of ships lacking direct connections to Israel, their actions endanger a crucial maritime route that facilitates trade between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

According to a statement from EU headquarters, following the endorsement by the bloc's foreign ministers, the mission aims to “enhance maritime situational awareness, escort vessels, and shield them against potential attacks across multiple domains at sea”.

The announcement follows a Houthi attack on a Belize-flagged British-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden. The attack occurred 100 nautical miles east of Aden in Yemen. 

The ship called the Rubymar sustained “catastrophic” damage in the missile attack off the coast of Yemen, Yemeni spokesperson Yahya Sare’e said in a statement posted to social media site, formerly Twitter, on February 19. Subsequently, the ship’s crew abandoned the ship following the attack, British media and the Maritime Trade Operations website reported on February 19. 

In a second incident on February 19, the Sea Champion, a cargo ship registered in Greece and owned by a US entity, was the target of two missile strikes while traversing the Gulf of Aden. The vessel, crewed by 23 individuals and en route from Argentina to Aden with a cargo of grain, experienced missile explosions close to its vicinity, approximately 10-15 metres away, resulting in window damage.

According to information from Greek shipping ministry sources and reported by Reuters, along with statements from the British maritime security firm Ambrey and the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), all crew members, including five Greeks, remained unharmed. The ship is currently continuing its journey to its next scheduled port of call, with both the crew and vessel reported to be in safe condition.