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Red Sea: What is the Aspid mission, the EU’s “defensive shield” against Houthi attacks?

After the missions “Agenor” and “Atalante” the “Aspid” appeared, “protective shield” in ancient Greek. The meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels officially launched this Monday a mission to protect maritime traffic in the Red Sea, disrupted by attacks by Houthi rebels. Following these attacks, many commercial carriers diverted their ships.

“Europe will guarantee freedom of navigation in the Red Sea in cooperation with its international partners. In addition to responding to the crisis, this is a step towards a stronger European presence at sea to protect our European interests,” welcomed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on X (ex-Twitter).

Several countries have expressed their intention to participate in this shield, including Belgium, Germany (if it gets the green light from its parliament), France and Italy, which will provide operational command under Greek auspices. Spain will not participate.

The mission is planned to last one year with a possible extension.

Fire to protect merchant ships or protect yourself

A European diplomat said it would take “several weeks” for the force to become operational. The German frigate Hesse sailed into the Red Sea on February 8 with a crew of about 240 people. It will be in a state of constant combat readiness and will be able to respond to possible attacks using remote-controlled missiles, drones and “kamikaze boats.” Belgium has announced its intention to send its frigate Marie-Louise. France said it was ready to make one of its frigates already in the Red Sea available to the Aspides mission.

In January, the Twenty-Seven agreed on the principle of maritime surveillance and patrol in the Red Sea, but on the condition that its mandate be purely defensive. It will be able to fire to protect merchant ships or itself, but will not be able to target rebel positions on the ground, diplomats said. This position differs from that of the US and UK, which have carried out strikes on ground positions of Iranian-backed militias.

This Monday, the Houthis said they attacked the British ship Rubimar in the Gulf of Aden with “naval missiles,” according to a statement by Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sari. Maritime security company Ambrey reported an attack on a “Belize-flagged, UK-registered, Lebanese-operated bulk carrier” in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. The ship was heading north from the United Arab Emirates and reached its final destination in the Bulgarian city of Varna.

The maritime safety agency UKMTO, which is run by the British navy, said the ship 65km off the Yemeni port of Moha reported “an explosion nearby which caused damage”. She later clarified that the crew was evacuated safe and sound.

The Houthis also said they shot down a US MQ-9 aircraft, but Washington has yet to respond to that claim.

In addition, according to Embry and the UKMTO, the Greek-flagged American bulk carrier was hit by a “missile attack” before another shell hit the water 10 to 15 meters from the ship. There were no reports of casualties and the ship continued its journey towards Aden. This attack has not yet been reported.

Source: Le Parisien

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