EU launches mission to protect Red Sea shipping

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The European Union on Monday officially launched a mission to help protect international shipping in the Red Sea from attacks by Yemen’s Huthis, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said.

“Europe will ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, working alongside our international partners,” the European Commission president wrote on X.

The Huthis, who control much of war-torn Yemen, have been attacking the vital shipping lane since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.

An EU official said Friday that the bloc aims to have the mission — called Aspides, Greek for shield — up and running in a “few weeks” with at least four vessels.

The overall commander will be Greek, while the lead officer in operational control at sea will be Italian, the EU official said.

Italian top diplomat Antonio Tajani confirmed the launch during a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, calling it “an important step towards common European defense.”

So far France, Germany, Italy and Belgium have said they plan to contribute ships.

The EU says the mission’s mandate — set initially for one year — is limited to protecting civilian shipping in the Red Sea and that no attacks will be carried out “on Yemeni soil”.

The United States is already spearheading its own naval coalition in the area and has conducted strikes on the Huthis in Yemen along with Britain.

An EU official said that there would be “continuous military to military contact” to coordinate actions with the US and other forces in the region.

The EU’s 27 countries managed to agree the Red Sea mission in a matter of weeks as concerns mount that the Huthi attacks could damage their economies and push up inflation.

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