Spain PM opposes using EU anti-piracy force in Red Sea

MADRID: Spain opposes using the European Union’s anti-piracy naval force Atalanta in a US-led coalition to protect Red Sea shipping from attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Wednesday (Dec 27).

But his government was “willing and open” to the creation by the EU of another force to tackle the problem, Sanchez said during his annual year-end news conference. 

The Iran-backed Houthis have carried out several strikes on Red Sea shipping, in what they say is in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. 

Atalanta – which was set up in 2008 and currently operates in the Indian Ocean with just one ship from Spain’s navy – does not have “the characteristics” which are required to patrol the Red Sea to prevent Huthi attacks, Sanchez said.

“The situation is completely distinct and the risk is different,” the Socialist premier added in his first public comments on the issue.

Spain took over command of the European Union maritime mission from Britain in 2019, as London was preparing its exit from the European Union.

The operational headquarters of Atalanta were also transferred to the Rota naval base in southern Spain.

Last week the Pentagon said 20 countries had joined a Washington-led coalition to protect the key Red Sea shipping lane.

Spain’s government has been ambivalent and on Sunday a spokesman for the defence ministry told AFP that Spain “will not participate”.

While no reason was given, the Spanish press on Sunday said the decision not to participate was driven by domestic politics.

Sanchez’s Socialists govern in a minority coalition with hard-left party Sumar, which generally opposes US foreign policy.

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