U.S.-led coalition aims to restore safe shipping in Red Sea

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by Emily Atkins

The United States has taken the lead in an operation to restore the security of shipping in the Red Sea.

Operation Prosperity Guardian is bringing together the U.S., the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, to jointly address security challenges in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The goal, according to a US defence department statement is “ensuring freedom of navigation for all countries and bolstering regional security and prosperity.”

The USS Truxtun, right, and Canadian ships MV Asterix, middle, and Montreal conduct a replenishment in the Red Sea, May 3, 2023. (Photo By: US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kenneth Blair)

During a trip to the Middle East, U.S. defence secretary Lloyd Austin convened a virtual meeting with ministers, chiefs of defence, and senior representatives from 43 countries, as well as the European Union and NATO, to discuss the increased threat to maritime security in the Red Sea.

Austin reaffirmed U.S. commitment to freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways and outlined the ways Yemeni rebel Houthi attacks are destabilizing maritime security. He underscored that attacks had already impacted the global economy and would continue to threaten commercial shipping if the international community did not come together to address the issue collectively.

Austin condemned Houthi attacks on international shipping and global commerce as unprecedented and unacceptable, noting the attacks threaten the free flow of commerce and endanger innocent mariners.

U.S. military commanders briefed meeting participants, reporting that the Houthis had conducted over 100 one-way uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) and ballistic missile attacks, targeting 10 merchant vessels involving more than 35 different nations. They highlighted that the Houthis had taken the merchant vessel Galaxy Leader and its 25-member international crew hostage on November 19; and the crew remain detained in Yemen.

Participants discussed how the attacks are a flagrant violation of international law, and the Houthis must cease their aggressive actions. Currently, 10 to 15 percent of global trade passes through the Red Sea, and international shipping companies are having to reroute through the Cape of Good Hope, adding weeks to the delivery of key goods and materials, including oil and gas.

Austin urged participants to join U.S.-led and other international initiatives and work with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the 39-member Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) to restore security in the Red Sea to deter future Houthi aggression. Austin pointed to CMF’s Task Force 153 – charged with international maritime security and capacity-building in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb, and the Gulf of Aden – as an existing multi-lateral platform that could be leveraged to deter attacks under the CMF.

No details on specific operations were shared.