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EU launches naval mission to protect Red Sea shipping

EU launches naval mission to protect Red Sea shipping
epa07310869 (FILE) - German Navy (Bundesmarine) frigate Augsburg (F213) docked in Wilhelmshaven, northern Germany, 03 September 2018 (reissued 23 January 2019). Media reports quoting military sources state on 23 January 2019, that Germany will not be sending any more ships in the Mediterranean Sea suspending its participation in the EU mission Sophia (EU NAVFOR Med), which is aimed at combatting criminal networks and people smuggling in the Mediterranean Sea. German Navy frigate Augsburg, currently stationed off the coast of Libya, will not be replaced upcoming February after concluding a five-month deployment in the Mediterranean Sea, media added. EPA-EFE/FOCKE STRANGMANN

BRUSSELS, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The European Union launched on Monday a naval mission to the Red Sea "to restore and safeguard freedom of navigation" there.

The “defensive maritime security operation”, dubbed Eunavfor Aspides, comes after Iranian-aligned Houthi militants started attacking international shipping in the Red Sea in support of Palestinian militant group Hamas in its war with Israel.

“The European Union is responding swiftly to the necessity to restore maritime security and freedom of navigation in a highly strategic maritime corridor”, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

“Within its defensive mandate, the operation will provide maritime situational awareness, accompany vessels, and protect them against possible multi-domain attacks at sea,” the statement added.

The statement did not specify how many vessels would be involved and a EU spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But EU diplomats previously told Reuters it would initially involve three vessels under EU command as part of the EU’s so-called Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Germany already sent an air defence frigate earlier this month to join the mission, and two diplomats have told Reuters that France and Italy would also contribute.

The EU said the mission would be active along the main sea lines of communication in the Baab al-Mandab Strait 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 Gulf.

(Reporting by Charlotte Van Campenhout and Andrew GrayEditing by Mark Potter)

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