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EU to launch Red Sea naval mission to protect ships from rebel attacks

US-owned ship Genco Picardy came under attack from a bomb-carrying drone launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden (Indian navy via AP)
US-owned ship Genco Picardy came under attack from a bomb-carrying drone launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden (Indian navy via AP)

The European Union (EU) 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 which are hampering trade and driving up prices, the bloc’s top diplomat has said.

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

Officials say 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.

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

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

The Houthis have waged a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, but Mr Borrell insisted the EU mission will not take part in any military strikes.

“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,” Mr Borrell told reporters before chairing a meeting of EU defence ministers in Brussels.

The ministers are expected to decide later on 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.

Mr Borrell said 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 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.”