France Launches EU Red Sea Mission Taking Down Drones, Escorting Boxship

French warship
France reports it forces downed drones coming from Yemen ( Armée Française - Opérations Militaires)

Published Feb 20, 2024 11:29 AM by The Maritime Executive


Hours after the EU Council confirmed the launch of its Red Sea defensive mission, France’s armed forces reported the first actions under the EUNAVFOR ASPIDES mission. France’s navy has been active in the region since it decided to proceed independently of the U.S.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian but highlighted its overnight actions in the region.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces reports that its Multi-Mission Frigates overnight detected multiple drone attacks coming from Yemen in their respective patrol areas in the Gulf of Aden and the southern Red Sea. This followed an active day in which a Houthi spokesperson said they had targeted two commercial ships and shot down a U.S. drone. The UK’s Maritime Trade Operations also reported drones had been tracking a ship in the Red Sea for approximately 30 minutes.  

France said its forces engaged and destroyed an unspecified number of the drones.  In a statement, the General Staff said, “These actions contribute to maritime security, from the Suez Canal to the Strait of Hormuz, and contribute to the defense of freedom of navigation, the objective of the EUNAVFOR ASPIDES operation launched by the European Union on February 19 under Greek command.”

Also, for the first time in nearly three weeks a CMA CGM containership, Jules Verne (186,470 dwt) transited the Red Sea. The company confirmed the trip in a brief statement to The Maritime Executive, saying, “In coordination with French naval forces, the CMA CGM Jules Verne transited the Red Sea without incident, escorted by the frigate Alsace. For the safety of our crews and ships, CMA CGM will not comment further.”

CMA CGM had suspended all transits of the Red Sea as of February 1, after one of its vessels was targeted by the Houthi. Prior to that, the shipping company had been deciding on a case-by-case basis sending a limited number of ships through the Suez Canal and Red Sea, while CEO Rodolphe Saade had told the Financial Times in an interview that it was challenging because they were delayed waiting for their escorts. He had said the security problems were causing extensive disruptions in the company’s schedule but the safety of the crew and ships was the top concern.

The CMA CGM Jules Verne (11,358 TEU), registered in Malta, is operating on the company’s Mediterranean Club Express route. Her AIS track shows she transited the Suez Canal on February 12 and made a scheduled port call in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, February 19, her AIS showed her in Djibouti, which appears to be an unscheduled stop, as the vessel proceeds to its next port, Port Klang, Malaysia.

EU officials said yesterday that they expected to have at least four vessels in the Red Sea region under the new mission in “the next few weeks,” without confirming which nations would be supporting the operation. It was expected that France would contribute, along with Germany which has dispatched a frigate to the Mediterranean in advance of a vote by parliament at the end of this week, and Denmark which already has a frigate in the Red Sea after a recent approval by its parliament.