Germany Inches Towards Shipping-Defense Mission for the Red Sea

Frigate Hessen
FGS Hessen (Mark Harkin / CC BY SA 2.0)

Published Jan 14, 2024 9:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

After much prodding from domestic business interests, the German government has announced that it will join a naval mission to protect shipping in the Red Sea, which has been substantially disrupted by attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebel forces. 

At a political reception Sunday, Bundestag defense committee chair Maria-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann said that the mission would involve EU member states' frigates providing defensive cover for merchant shipping. The initiative would be under an EU mandate and would involve other nations' vessels as well. 

“This is an attack on the free economy and it must be countered," said Strack-Zimmerman.

Any German involvement could be weeks away. The German air defense frigate Hessen is said to be preparing to depart on February 1, according to Welt am Sonntag - and that would be conditional on parliamentary approval. 

Hessen is one of Germany's three Sachsen-class frigates, the only multirole surface combatants in the nation's service. The deployment would leave just two available to protect German waters in the North Sea and the Baltic.

Industrial impact

The disruption in the Red Sea is taking a measurable toll on German industrial enterprises. Shipping times from Asia to Northern Europe have increased by 10 days (for containerized freight), and prices per TEU have increased drastically. 

American automaker Tesla has announced that it will be suspending output at its Berlin plant location for two weeks because of component supply shortages, brought on by the Houthi disruption of containerized freight shipments. Its locations outside of Germany are not affected.

“The considerably longer transportation times are creating a gap in supply chains,” Tesla said in a statement. 

Chinese-owned automaker Volvo will be suspending production for three days at a plant in Belgium for similar reasons, citing "adjusted sea routes" and delays in its supply chain for gearbox components.