Since Yemen’s Houthi terrorists began attacks on merchant ships in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in October 2023, shipping traffic in the region has almost halved. That has consequences.

The shipping companies accept the significantly longer and therefore more expensive detour via South Africa . This is causing bottlenecks in supply chains, an increase in oil prices and a general negative impact on economic performance worldwide. Alongside the United States, Great Britain and other Western nations, the European Union has established a purely defensive operation in the region to safely escort merchant ships through the danger zone and monitor the airspace: EUNAVFOR European Union Naval Force Aspides. The Bundeswehr is currently taking part in the mission with the frigate “Hessen.”

The operation’s headquarters , the Operational Headquarters (OHQ), is located in Larissa, Greece. Shipping companies can contact us here if they would like to request protection for their ships. The application is checked based on various criteria. It is then sent to the so-called Force Headquarters ( FHQ) for implementation Force Headquarters) passed on. It is located aboard one of Aspides’ local warships. The FHQ Force Headquarters then checks from which direction the merchant ship to be escorted is entering the danger zone and which Aspides unit can take over the escort, the so-called close protection task.

Generally, the merchant ships are escorted between the southern Red Sea, Djibouti and the Gulf of Aden. If one of the Aspides units has received such an order, the merchant ship is picked up at a previously agreed rendezvous point. From then on, the Aspides unit and its “sheep”, as the accompanying merchant ship is then called, travel together at a navigationally safe distance to the agreed destination. Once this is reached, the merchant ship can safely continue its journey alone.

During the Close Protection Task, the “sheep” benefits from the air defense capability of the Aspides unit. Rocket attacks by the Houthi rebels are detected via the long-range sensors and countered by the on-board weapons. And even if the Aspides units do not have a specific close protection task , they patrol a sea area assigned to them. They then constantly monitor the airspace there to ensure security and protect the freedom of trade routes.

Dennis Kessler