EU to launch a Red Sea naval mission

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

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that he expects the bloc’s foreign ministers to sign off on the mission when they meet on Feb. 19. 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.

Meanwhile, India’s naval forces rescued an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel hijacked by Somali pirates and freed its 19-member Pakistani crew off the east coast of Somalia, a navy statement said Tuesday. Later that day, the navy said in a statement it also rescued a Sri Lankan fishing vessel, together with forces from Seychelles and Sri Lanka.

The Iranian vessel Al Naeemi was rescued late Monday after the Indian navy intercepted the vessel, forcing 11 Somali pirates to release the crew and boat. It didn’t immediately say what happened to the hijackers, but it posted images showing 10 pirates with their hands tied behind them and armed Indian naval troops guarding them. Another image showed some armed pirates on the vessel.

The Iranian-backed Houthis and other pirates have waged a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships over Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas which began in October. However, the Yemen-based rebels have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade between Asia, the Mideast and Europe.

Last week, U.S. and British forces bombed multiple targets in eight locations used by the Iranian-backed Houthis. It was the second time the two allies conducted coordinated retaliatory strikes on the rebels’ missile-launching capabilities.

Borrell insisted that the EU mission — dubbed Aspides, from the Greek for “shield” — will not take part in any military strikes and will only operate at sea.

“This is the purpose: protection of the ships. Intercepting of the attacks against the ships. Not participating in any kind of action against the Houthis. Only blocking the attacks of the Houthis,” Borrell told reporters before chairing a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels.

The ministers discussed 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, but no decisions were made public.

Image courtesy of Mid Day

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