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EU aims to launch Red Sea naval mission 'within three weeks'

EU aims to launch a Red Sea naval mission within three weeks to protect ships from attacks
3 min read
EU official Josep Borrell confirms that the EU-led naval mission is set to launch in mid-February to help defend cargo ships against attacks
EU top diplomat Josep Borrell announced the Red Sea naval mission before chairing a meeting of EU defence ministers in Brussels [Getty]

The European Union plans to launch a naval mission in the Red Sea within three weeks to help defend cargo ships against attacks by Houthis in Yemen that are hampering trade and driving up prices, the bloc’s top diplomat said Wednesday.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he wants the mission to be up and running by February 17.

Officials say that seven EU countries are ready to provide ships or planes. Belgium has already committed to send a frigate. Germany is expected to do the same.

Borrell said the EU operation would be named Aspides – the Greek word for shield, or protector – and its mandate would be to protect commercial and intercept attacks, but not take part in strikes against the Houthis.

"This is the purpose: protection of the ships. Intercepting of the attacks against the ships. Not participating in any kinds of actions against the Houthis. Only blocking the attacks of the Houthis," Borrell told reporters before chairing a meeting of EU defence ministers in Brussels.

The ministers were expected to decide later Wednesday which member country should lead the naval effort – France, Greece and Italy are vying for that role – and where the mission’s headquarters should be based.

The United States and other countries in December launched a mission to allay fears that disruption in one of the world's top trading arteries could hit the global economy.

But some US allies, notably European countries, have raised reservations about the plan, which has seen the US and Britain launch airstrikes on Houthi positions, and baulked at the idea of being under Washington's command.

Last week, US and British forces bombed multiple targets in eight locations used by the Iranian-backed Houthis.

It was the second time the two allies have conducted coordinated retaliatory strikes on the rebels’ missile-launching capabilities.

Meanwhile, Borrell said that businesses have been demanding EU action, given the trade implications of forcing merchant ships to bypass the Red Sea on their way to and from Europe.

"Many European firms asked us to do that because their business model is suffering a lot due to the high increase in cost and having to go down to South Africa," he said, referring to the alternative route that commercial ships are taking.

"It’s affecting prices, it’s affecting inflation. So, it’s a natural endeavour for us to try to avoid this risk."