Spanish PM open to creation of new EU mission to protect vessels in Red Sea

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain opposes using the European Union’s anti-piracy naval force to protect merchant ships in the Red Sea from the Yemeni Houthi militia, but it is willing to consider the creation of a different mission to tackle the problem, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of Yemen including the capital Sanaa, have since October attacked commercial vessels in the Red Sea that they say have Israeli links or are sailing to Israel. They say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians under assault by Israeli forces in Gaza.

“We are willing and open to consider such an operation but not within the framework of Operation Atalanta,” Sanchez said, referring to the existing EU mission.

He said he had conveyed to Madrid’s allies in both NATO and the EU that Operation Atalanta had “neither the characteristics nor the nature required for the Red Sea”.

The situation in the Red Sea was “completely different” from Atalanta’s area of operation, the Indian Ocean, where the EU’s main mission was to combat piracy.

Several shipping lines have suspended operations through the Red Sea in response to the attacks instead taking the longer journey around southern Africa.

The Houthis say they will continue their attacks until Israel halts the conflict in Gaza and say they will attack U.S. warships if the militia group itself was targeted.

(Reporting by Belén Carreño and Inti Landauro; Writing by David Latona; Editing by Angus MacSwan)