EU Aspides force lacks ships to protect Red Sea maritime traffic

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In early April, attacks by Houthi rebels on commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden dropped significantly. This slowdown could be due to U.S. and British strikes on their military assets or the presence of ships involved in the EUNAVFOR Aspides and Guardian of Prosperity missions.

Photo credit: Italian Navy

An official from US CENTCOM said the Houthis were running low on missiles and drones. However, this break in the attacks may be temporary. 

“We’re not sure how many missiles and drones they had when they started. So, it’s hard to know how much they have right now. Iran is probably restocking them,” Gen. Alexus Grynkewich told the Associated Press. The predictions were right. The attacks are not only more frequent, but the Houthis have changed their tactics to overcome defensive measures implemented under Operations Aspides and Guardian of Prosperity. 

Photo credit: Twitter

‘They are evolving their tactics’

“They are evolving their tactics, techniques, and procedures. […] They are now trying to coordinate and attack using multi-domain, multi-access capabilities,” said Navy Capt. Marvin Scott, commander of the air group aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. This vessel will soon be replaced by the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Additionally, the Houthis are increasingly using “kamikaze” surface drones like the “Toofan 1,” which carries 150 kg of explosives. On June 12, one of these drones hit the Greek bulk carrier Tutor, forcing an evacuation before the ship eventually sank. 

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

The Ukrainian bulk carrier M/V Verbena recently suffered heavy damage and is now adrift. Its crew had to abandon the ship and were helped by the American destroyer USS Philippine Sea and the cargo ship M/V Anna Meta. The British agency UKMTO also reported that another unidentified ship suffered a similar fate on June 23. 

More ships are needed

Greek Rear Admiral Vasileios Gryparis, leader of European operation Aspides, highlighted the need for more ships to counter ongoing attacks by the Houthis. Currently, Operation Aspides has four ships from France, Belgium, Greece, and Italy. With the Dutch logistics support ship Zr.Ms. Karel Doorman also aids Operation Guardian of Prosperity, the total number of ships reaches five.

Photo credit: Turkish MoD

Rear Admiral Gryparis believes the operation needs twice as many ships. “The area we need to cover is vast, and we’re short on resources. I’m urging all member states to provide more help,” he said, as reported by Bloomberg on June 21.

Remember, Aspides’ mission is purely defensive, so they don’t plan to target Houthi military sites in Yemen, unlike what American and British forces did in Operation Guardian of Prosperity. “We don’t think hitting the Houthis will fix the problem,” Rear Admiral Gryparis said. “Some countries tried that in the past, and others still do. It hasn’t helped solve the issue,” he added.

Aspides naval mission

Photo credit: Naval News

The EU Aspides Naval Mission in the Red Sea is a European Union-led initiative aimed at enhancing maritime security and stability in the Red Sea region. The mission focuses on countering piracy, human trafficking, and other illicit activities that threaten maritime security. By deploying naval assets and personnel, the EU Aspides Naval Mission works to deter and disrupt these illegal activities, thereby contributing to the safety of commercial shipping lanes. 

In addition to its security objectives, the mission also engages in capacity-building efforts with regional partners. The EU Aspides Naval Mission operates under the framework of the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy [CSDP]. It is part of a series of maritime operations that the EU has conducted in various regions, including the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, to address security challenges and promote international maritime law. 

The mission’s presence in the Red Sea is also strategically significant due to the region’s proximity to key maritime choke points such as the Suez Canal and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. Ensuring the security of these passages is crucial for the uninterrupted flow of global maritime traffic, which has direct implications for international trade and economic stability.

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