EU launches ‘Operation Aspides’ in Red Sea

Red Sea
The Iran-backed Houthi militants, which control large parts of Yemen, have attacked numerous commercial ships in the Red Sea since October 2023. Photo:AFP

The European Union has launched a naval mission — Operation Aspides — to help protect cargo ships in the Red Sea as attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to threaten maritime traffic, hamper trade and drive up prices.

The mission will be run out of Larissa in central Greece — home to the Hellenic Air Force.

Why such an operation was launched?

• The Iran-backed Houthi militants, which control large parts of Yemen, have attacked numerous commercial ships in the Red Sea since October 2023. 

• The Houthis have launched unprecedented attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, as well as military forces positioned in the area to defend the safety and security of commercial shipping.

• Houthis control the capital Sanaa and large swathes of Yemen, including the Red Sea coast. They began targeting what they believe to be Israel-bound vessels after first launching missile and drone attacks against Israel itself, in support of the extremist group Hamas.

• Now, they have widened their aim to all international shipping companies, until Israel allows full humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza.

• Such attacks jeopardise the life of civilians on merchant and commercial vessels, and constitute a breach of the freedom of the high seas and of the right of transit passage in straits used for international navigation enshrined in United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

• The US blames that Iran offers its support for the Houthis to attack merchant and commercial ships passing through the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. 

• In December 2023, the US launched Operation Prosperity Guardian by bringing together multiple countries including the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, to jointly address security challenges in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

• The operation is a new multinational security operation under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces and the leadership of Task Force 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea.  

• On January 12, the US and the UK launched air strikes targeting the Houthi positions in Yemen, following which the Houthis vowed to retaliate.

• The UN Security Council has passed a resolution condemning the multiple attacks by Houthi rebels off the coast of Yemen which have disrupted global trade and raised fears of further spillover from the war in Gaza.

• The attacks are already having wide-ranging effects.

• The disruptions led to a drastic cut in the number of vessels using the Suez Canal route.

Operation Aspides

• Operation Aspides will ensure an EU naval presence in the area where numerous Houthi attacks have targeted international commercial vessels. 

• In close cooperation with like-minded international partners, Aspides will contribute to safeguard maritime security and ensure freedom of navigation, especially for merchant and commercial vessels. 

• Within its defensive mandate, the operation will provide maritime situational awareness, accompany vessels, and protect them against possible multi-domain attacks at sea.

• The operation will be active along the main sea lines of communication in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Strait of Hormuz, as well as international waters in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, and the Gulf.

• The Operation headquarters will be based in Larissa, Greece.

• It will coordinate closely with the European Union’s Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) ATALANTA to contribute to maritime security in the West Indian Ocean and in the Red Sea, as well as, with like-minded partners contributing to maritime security in its area of operation.

• The EU mission will not take part in any military strikes and will only operate at sea.

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