EU Approves Naval Mission “Aspides” to Protect Shipping Routes in Red Sea

After extensive preparations, EU foreign ministers have granted approval for the naval mission “Aspides” in the Red Sea to safeguard vital shipping lanes. The mission aims to protect merchant vessels from attacks by Iran-supported Houthi rebels and ensure the safe passage of goods between Asia and Europe.

What are the goals of the naval mission “Aspides”?

After more than two months of preparation, EU foreign ministers approved the naval mission “Aspides” in the Red Sea. The mission carries risks. Here are answers to the key questions.

What is the purpose of the mission?

Shipping in the Red Sea and adjacent sea routes has been partially halted due to attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. They have been targeting merchant ships with rockets and drones since mid-November, sometimes capturing them.

The Houthi rebels consider themselves part of the “Axis of Resistance” against Israel in the Middle East conflict. The militia aims to halt Israeli military operations in Gaza following the Islamist Hamas massacre in Israel on October 7 by attacking ships.

As a result of these attacks, cargo ships and tankers can no longer use the route through the Red Sea and Suez Canal to transport goods between Asia and Europe. Instead, ships are forced to take a longer route around the southern tip of Africa, leading to increased transportation costs and delays.

Robert Brieger, the chairman of the EU Military Committee, stated that the mission is driven by the EU’s “substantial interests” in trade.

How will the EU protect merchant ships?

The EU is responding with the naval mission called “Aspides,” which translates to “Shields” in ancient Greek. The mission will involve at least four warships along with accompanying aircraft such as helicopters and drones to protect merchant vessels from Houthi attacks, provide escorts, and conduct maritime surveillance.

What is the operational area of “Aspides”?

The mission extends beyond the Red Sea, covering the Bab el-Mandeb strait, the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Africa, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Hormuz in between. These areas are crucial connections between Asia and Europe for goods and energy deliveries.

Are there plans to attack the Houthi?

No, the mandate is strictly defensive. Germany, along with other EU countries, will not be targeting Houthi positions on land. The US and the UK have been carrying out airstrikes against the Houthi rebels, but some EU countries have chosen not to join this US-led coalition.

How is Germany participating?

The German government is sending the 143-meter long frigate “Hessen” for armed deployment, pending approval from the Bundestag on Friday. The vessel is equipped with anti-aircraft missiles and designed for escort and maritime control. About 240 soldiers are on board.

The frigate’s specialized radar can monitor an airspace the size of the entire North Sea, with weapons systems capable of engaging targets up to 160 kilometers away. Germany will also provide staff for the operation headquarters in Larisa, Greece, and helicopters.

What risks do the German crew face?

Due to previous Houthi attacks on warships, Operation “Aspides” is considered relatively risky. Potential threats include Houthi attacks with rockets, drones, and remote-controlled “Kamikaze boats.” Marine Inspector Jan Christian Kaack described this as the “most serious mission of a German navy unit in many decades.”

Despite the risks, Kaack believes the unit is well-prepared and trained for the operation. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius plans to visit the frigate on Tuesday to assess the situation.

Which other EU countries are participating in the operation?

Countries like Italy, Greece, and Denmark have publicly committed to the mission. Greece and Denmark, like Germany, will send a frigate, while Italy will contribute a guided-missile destroyer. Greece will be in charge of the operation’s headquarters in Larisa.