EU's Aspides mission to the Red Sea will be based in Greece

Onboard command to be led by Italy

German Navy frigate Hessen departs from Wilhelmshaven for deployment in the Red Sea. Getty Images
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An EU naval mission to the Red Sea to defend commercial shipping from Houthi attacks will be based in the Greek city of Larissa, EU diplomats told The National.

"Greece will have the overall command under Rear Admiral Vasileios Gryparis, with headquarters in Larissa," one of the diplomats said.

Italy's Defence Ministry this month said Rome would provide the admiral in command of the mission but has yet to give a name.

The mission, known as Aspides, is expected to be officially launched at a meeting of the EU's 27 foreign ministers on Monday.

"Italy will have the force headquarters and the force commander, Greece will have the operational headquarters and the operational commander," a second diplomatic source said.

The EU's foreign policy and security chief Josep Borrell last month said the name Aspides derived from the ancient Greek word for shield.

The year-long mission will be purely a defensive operation to ensure freedom of navigation and protect merchant vessels. It will not conduct operations on land in Yemen, where the Houthis are based.

Its area of operation will include Bab Al Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz, as well as international waters in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf, according to the EU Official Journal.

Some EU countries, such as Germany and Belgium, announced they would send a frigate to join Aspides. Others, including the Netherlands, are also members of a US naval mission called Prosperity Guardian in the region.

EU's envoy for Gulf stresses Red Sea navigation's role in regional prosperity

EU's envoy for Gulf stresses Red Sea navigation's role in regional prosperity

German frigate Hessen set sail last week for the Red Sea from the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven with about 240 service personnel on board.

Unlike the US and the UK, the EU aims to project deterrence, not launch offensive military operations in the region.

The US, with occasional support from the UK, has conducted strikes on Houthi military bases in Yemen but that has not stopped them from continuing to attack merchant ships as they go through the Red Sea.

The Houthis have said their harassment campaign is aimed at pressuring Israel into a ceasefire in its retaliatory war in Gaza after the Hamas-led October 7 attacks.

Hamas and the Houthis are both allies of Iran.

UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has described the Houthis as "opportunistic pirates".

The US Central Command on Thursday said the US Coastguard seized a shipment of weapons from Iran in the Arabian Gulf that was destined for the Houthis.

Speaking to TV network CNBC on Wednesday, a senior official at AP Moller-Maersk said that he did not see the situation in the Red Sea changing "anytime soon".

On January 5, Maersk suspended its vessels transiting through the Red Sea for the "foreseeable future".

The disruption has caused container rates to soar as many ships reroute by a longer voyage via the southern tip of South Africa.

Analysts say the impact on consumer goods so far has been low despite delays in delivery timelines.

Updated: February 15, 2024, 3:05 PM