The frigate “Hessen” ended its combat mission to protect merchant ships against attacks by the Houthi militia in the Red Sea as planned. The ship completed the mission at 5:50 a.m. (CEST) and left the operational area, the Bundeswehr said.

With around 240 men and women on board, the “Hessen” made a German contribution to the EU military mission “Aspides”. In recent weeks, the crew has shot down drones belonging to the Houthi militia operating from Yemen and allied with Iran several times. It was the first combat mission of this kind for the German Navy.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the soldiers had “executed their mission brilliantly.” “Germany and its partners are not standing idly by and watching the attacks by the Houthi militias that violate international law. It is also our job to protect free trade – and with it the lives of the people on the merchant ships in the Red Sea,” said the SPD politician.

And: “We are defending the security and freedom of one of the most important sea and trade routes.” He expects the ship and crew to return safely in Wilhelmshaven at the beginning of May. As a successor, the frigate “Hamburg” will be deployed for the Aspides mission at the beginning of August.

The frigate had been deployed in the Red Sea since February 23 to protect civilian shipping on the most important sea route from Asia to Europe. The Houthi militia wants to use the attacks to force an end to the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, which is a response to the terrorist attack by the Islamist Hamas on October 7th. Because of the attacks by the Houthis, who are armed by Iran, large shipping companies recently avoided the shortest sea connection between Asia and Europe. This has an impact on the global economy.

According to the Ministry of Defense, a total of 27 merchant ships were safely escorted through the operational area by the Hesse. In four cases the Houthi militia’s drones and missiles were successfully combated. In total, the frigate covered more than 11,000 kilometers – “around 6,000 nautical miles” – in the operational area. The crew provided medical first aid twice – to a soldier from a partner nation and to a crew member of a merchant ship.

The 143 meter long “Hessen” is equipped with anti-aircraft missiles and was specifically designed for escort and maritime control. According to the Bundeswehr, the ship can use its special radar to monitor airspace the size of the entire North Sea. The weapon systems are capable of engaging targets at a distance of up to 160 kilometers. She was also referred to as an air defense frigate.

Operation “Aspides” was launched in mid-February by a decision by the foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states. Pistorius visited the frigate a few days before the mission began and spoke of the Navy’s most dangerous mission in decades.