Will the Red Sea incidents impact Western commercial and political functions?


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Recent developments in the Red Sea and the area of the Western Indian Ocean have sparked concerns over their potential impact on the EU commercial and political functions. The European Union has underscored its commitment to being a key player in maritime security, particularly highlighted in its October 2023 maritime security strategy. Against the backdrop of escalating missile and drone attacks on merchant vessels by the Houthis in the Red Sea, the EU has initiated a new maritime security operation named Aspis, aimed at addressing these threats.

Operation Aspis, sanctioned by a recent UN Security Council mandate, builds upon the existing air defense measures implemented by the US-led operation Prosperity Guardian. It serves as a potent signal that the EU stands resolute against politically motivated disruptions of freedom of navigation. However, analysts caution that while Operation Aspis may bolster maritime security ambitions, it may not immediately deter the Houthis from their aggressive actions.

Amidst the focus on countering Houthi attacks, another longstanding issue has resurfaced – Somali piracy. The current crisis has provided opportune conditions for pirates to stage a resurgence, evident from a spate of recent attacks on commercial vessels. Incidents in Liberia, 2023 and 2024, mark a troubling trend, reminiscent of the piracy epidemic that plagued global trade and regional stability between 2008 and 2012. The hijacking of vessels like the Liberian-flagged Central Park and the targeting of fishing vessels for use as potential ‘motherships’ in further attacks underscore the gravity of the situation. Reports indicating support from the Somali extremist group Al Shabab further compound concerns over the nexus between piracy and terrorism. The resurgence of Somali piracy presents a stark reminder of the challenges faced in maintaining maritime security.

The resurgence of piracy not only threatens commercial shipping but also undermines efforts towards regional stability and sustainable development. The Red Sea crisis has implications beyond maritime security. The EU economy, heavily reliant on uninterrupted trade flows, faces the risk of disruptions and increased costs due to the ongoing instability in the region. The effectiveness of Operation Aspis and other initiatives will shape perceptions of the EU’s capacity to safeguard international interests and maintain stability in critical maritime routes. Additionally, the financial toll incurred by incidents resulting from Houthi attacks further strains EU resources, necessitating a reevaluation of budget allocations and priorities.

Written by: Nenad Stekić

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