German Foreign Minister feels Red Sea tension as plane forced to divert to Saudi Arabia

Annalena Baerbock is on a trip to Africa but Yemen was considered not safe to fly over and Eritrea denied permission to enter its airspace

Annalena Baerbock leaves the plane after it was forced to divert to Jeddah. Photo: Getty Images
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Germany’s foreign minister was forced to make an unplanned stopover in Saudi Arabia after it was deemed too unsafe to fly over Yemen on her way to Africa.

Annalena Baerbock said her government aircraft lacked a permit to fly over Eritrea on its way to Djibouti, the first stop on a three-day visit to the continent, but with Yemen considered unsafe, it had to land in Jeddah.

She said in a statement that the unplanned stop was a reflection of the overall instability in the region because nearby countries Yemen and Sudan could not be used as flyover routes because of armed conflicts there.

"When things happen that are not actually planned, you have to be flexible," the Green party politician said, adding that in a region hit by conflict not everything can run "as it would in normal, peaceful times”.

Overflight authorisations are commonly granted during the course of a flight but no clearance was given, and the Eritrean Foreign Ministry could not assist.

Instead, her German government plane circled over the Red Sea before finally landing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to refuel, delegation sources told AFP.

Ms Baerbock said she planned to convey a message in Djibouti that Germany and the European Union were working on ways to protect Red Sea shipping routes from attacks by Yemen's Houthi militia.

"This is a protective mission for ships in the region, and that means such a defensive mission by the Europeans, should it be agreed, would not constitute attacks on Yemen," she said.

Last August Ms Baerbock's planned week-long trip to the Indo-Pacific region had to be cancelled because of repeated mechanical issues with her government plane.

The tour was abandoned after the German Air Force plane made two aborted attempts to set off from Abu Dhabi International Airport.

On both occasions the crew noticed a “technical fault” with the wing flaps on the aircraft, which had stopped off at Abu Dhabi to refuel.

The military announced the Airbus A340 would be retired after the latest in a string of embarrassing mishaps for German officials travelling abroad.

Updated: January 28, 2024, 8:57 PM