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Greece Set to Host EU Red Sea Operation HQ

Greece EU mission Red Sea
Greece will participate in the multinational force, led by the United States, in the Red Sea. Credit: Hellenic Navy

The EU’s naval mission to protect commercial shipping in the Red Sea will be headquartered in Larissa, Greece, the bloc’s defense ministers agreed on Wednesday.

Greek Defense Minister Nikos Dendias tweeted that his EU counterparts accepted the offer made by Athens.

The naval mission dubbed Aspides, meaning shields or protector in Greek, is expected to be launched on February 19th to protect shipping from missile attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“Maritime security in the Red Sea has significantly deteriorated over the last weeks and we are very much advancing the work of a new maritime operation in order to act in a purely defensive mode to protect merchant vessels,” Josep Borrell, the bloc’s top diplomat confirmed after an informal meeting of defense ministers in Brussels.

“Our goal is to establish and launch this mission, Aspides, at the latest on the 19 February, I hope, and I’m sure, we will,” he added.

So far, only five member states have publicly indicated they will participate in the mission: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy. Greece is expected to participate with the Hydra frigate.

Details that still need to be ironed out before February 19th include what military personnel and capabilities will be committed to the mission and which country will lead it. France, Greece, and Italy have pitched for the leadership role.

The EU mission will be strictly restricted to protecting ships and intercepting incoming missiles in contrast to the US and UK, which have bombed multiple Houthis targets on two separate occasions together as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian.

Borrell stressed that the capabilities involved in Aspides will be “proportionate to the threat we are facing” and that “we will not conduct any operation on land, only on sea.”

“Of course, we will coordinate with other missions,” he added, referring to the US-led operation.

Greece has a “duty to support Greek merchant ships in the Red Sea”

Greece will “be present in all international initiatives that guarantee peace and international legality in the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs Minister George Gerapetritis told a Parliament committee on Wednesday.

Responding to protests about Greece’s involvement with a frigate, Gerapetritis said, “Is there a part of parliament that does not believe it is Greece’s duty to support Greek merchant ships and Greek seamen?” Greece, he said, will be present to protect the Greek merchant marine and its crew members.

In January, a Greek merchant vessel was hit by a Houthi strike. All twenty-four foreign nationals of the vessel’s crew were unharmed.

In recent weeks, the dangers for shipping in the Red Sea region have increased dramatically, as Iranian-backed Houthi fighters have targeted commercial shipping with drone and missile attacks, as well as more brazen assaults by boat and helicopter.

The Houthis, who control a large part of Yemen, have declared their backing for Hamas in its war with Israel. They say they are targeting commercial vessels with links to Israel.

Disruption of world trade

Much of the world’s oil and natural gas originates from the region, and the Red Sea is used to transport roughly fifteen percent of the world’s shipping traffic.

With Houthis attacking dozens of ships since the war in Gaza erupted, trade flows have been hit at a time when supply strains and low demand are putting pressure on prices globally.

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