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    In the “war march” to the Red Sea


    It is the most dangerous naval mission in Bundeswehr history: On Friday, the heavily armed frigate “Hessen” will sail into the Red Sea. Beforehand, the crew receives prominent visitors.

    Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) has prepared the crew of the frigate “Hessen” for a dangerous mission in the Red Sea. “Now it's about the emergency,” he said during his visit to the 240 soldiers on the warship in the port of Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete. “It's no exaggeration to say: It's the most serious and also the most dangerous mission the Navy has seen in decades.”

    The “Hessen” set off from Wilhelmshaven on February 8th towards the Red Sea, where it is supposed to protect merchant ships from attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi militia as part of an EU mission. If the Bundestag approves it on Friday, as expected, it will travel to the operational area from the Suez Canal immediately afterwards.

    On alert 24/7

    From then on she will be on the “war march” until the end of April, as the commander, Frigate Captain Volker Kübsch, says. This means that the crew is on alert around the clock in six-hour shifts and is therefore prepared for all possible attacks – be it with ballistic missiles, drones or even kamikaze speedboats with explosive charges.

    The German Navy has not experienced such an operation since the founding of the Bundeswehr. It has already protected merchant ships from pirate attacks in the same region. But it was about criminals who used small arms to take control of merchant ships. Now the enemy is a militia armed by an aggressive regional power like Iran. There are currently around five Houthi attacks per week, says Kübsch. “Basically, we assume that we too will be viewed as a target.”

    “A big task, a new dimension”

    The Houthis want to force an end to the Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip by shelling ships, which are a response to the terrorist attack by the Islamist Hamas on October 7th. The sea route through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal is one of the most important trade routes in the world. Because of the Houthi attacks, large shipping companies are increasingly avoiding the shortest sea connection between Asia and Europe. This is now having a significant impact on the global economy. The USA and Great Britain have recently attacked Houthi targets in Yemen. The EU operation, on the other hand, is purely defensive.

    For Pistorius, however, his importance should not be underestimated. It's about the stability of the entire region, about “a major task, a new dimension,” he tells the soldiers. “It's about nothing more and nothing less than protecting the rules-based order.”

    17 EU states and Norway involved

    The foreign ministers of the EU states had already given the green light for Operation “Aspides” on Monday. 17 European Union states and Norway are taking part in the mission, five of them with ships. The Bundestag will vote on the mission on Friday. The chairwoman of the Defense Committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), who accompanied Pistorius on his visit to the troops, promises great approval. In addition to the traffic light factions, the Union is also likely to say yes to the operation.

    It is the Bundeswehr's first foreign deployment for which Pistorius is responsible as Defense Minister. He deliberately sent the ship to the Red Sea early on so that the operation could begin immediately after the Bundestag vote. The ship will therefore set off for the Suez Canal on Wednesday morning.

    Long-range anti-aircraft missiles

    The frigate “Hessen” was designed specifically for escort and maritime control. With its radar it can monitor an airspace the size of the entire North Sea – 350 kilometers in all directions. Their anti-aircraft missiles range more than 160 kilometers. In addition to the regular crew and two helicopters, there are also other emergency services on board, including a team of doctors and a military chaplain.

    The vote on the mission in the Bundestag is scheduled for 12.25 p.m. on Friday. Then things get serious for the soldiers. The mood was “tense, but in a positive sense,” says Commander Kübsch. And Commander-in-Chief Pistorius promises the soldiers: “I will be informed regularly about how they are doing, whether everything is OK, whether anything is missing.”

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