Smoke rises from Marlin Luanda, merchant vessel, after the vessel was struck by an Al Houthi anti-ship missile, at the location given as Gulf of Aden, in this handout picture released on January 27, 2024. Image Credit: REUTERS

BRUSSELS: EU member states want to launch a Red Sea naval mission by mid-February to protect ships from attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Al Houthi militia and could decide its command structure on Wednesday, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

Click here to get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

Many commercial shippers have diverted vessels following attacks by Al Houthis, who control much of Yemen and say they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians as Israel and Hamas wage war in Gaza.

“Not all member states will be willing to participate but no one will obstruct ... I hope that on the 17th of this month (February) the mission can be launched,” Borrell told reporters ahead of a European Union defence ministers meeting.

Also read

He said the aim on Wednesday was to pick a lead nation, and outline where the mission would be headquartered, who would participate and with what assets.

The United States and other countries in December launched a mission to allay fears that disruption in one of the world’s top trading arteries could hit the global economy.

But some US allies, notably European countries, have raised reservations about the plan, which has seen the US and Britain launch air strikes on Houthi positions, and baulked at the idea of being under Washington’s command.

Borrell said the EU operation would be named Aspides - meaning protector - and its mandate would be to protect commercial and intercept attacks, but not take part in strikes against Al Houthis.

France, Greece and Italy have shown interest in leading the mission, with seven countries so far indicating they would be willing to send naval assets, diplomats said, adding that it would be based off existing EU missions in the region.

The operation would initially see three vessels under EU command. France and Italy already have warships in the region, and Germany plans to send the Hesse frigate to the area, diplomats said.