Belgium postpones Red Sea deployment after frigate mishaps

Belgium postpones Red Sea deployment after frigate mishaps

PARIS — Belgium postponed the deployment of the frigate Louise-Marie to the Red Sea for “an indefinite period of time” after the vessel failed a number of technical tests during training, the country’s Defense Ministry said on Monday.

The ministry declined to provide details, in an emailed statement to Defense News, citing operational security.

Specialist website reported a RIM-7 Sea Sparrow air-defense missile failed to launch during a simulated drone attack, remaining stuck in the launch tube, while other defense systems also failed to down the practice drone. In addition to 16 air-defense missile launch cells, the Louise-Marie is equipped with an Oto Melara 76mm cannon, a Goalkeeper close-in weapon system as well as machine guns.

Belgium is at least the third European nation to suffer embarrassing technical mishaps related to the international mission to protect shipping lanes in the Red Sea, where Houthi rebels have been targeting marine traffic with missiles and drones. Danish frigate Iver Huitfeldt suffered several malfunctions that prompted a hasty return home, while Germany’s Hessen mistakenly fired two interceptors at a U.S. MQ-9 drone, with both missing.

The Louise-Marie, one of Belgium’s two frigates, remains in the Mediterranean for now, and passage through the Suez Canal, initially scheduled for April 12, has been postponed, the Defense Ministry said in an emailed statement. The ship left the Belgian Navy base of Zeebrugge on March 10.

“The on-board commander and the general staff have decided to extend the frigate’s training period as a result of previous training and technical tests that for now are not achieving the full intended results,” the ministry said. “The identified deficiencies are currently being analyzed, and necessary adjustments will be made with a view of continuing the mission to the operational theater.”

The Louise-Marie plans to participate in the European-led Aspides and Agenor missions, and for now will continue preparatory training. The frigate was built in the Netherlands between 1985 and 1989 to serve in the Dutch Navy, and was sold to Belgium in 2005.

“The safety and preparation of our personnel is essential,” the ministry said. “There will be no compromises on that front.”

Denmark fired its chief of defense after he reportedly failed to disclose critical weapon and mission-system issues aboard the Iver Huitfeldt for a significant period of time.

Meanwhile, U.S., British and French frigates have successfully destroyed dozens of drones and anti-ship ballistic missiles in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, as the Iran-backed Houthis have attacked shipping in response to Israel’s war in Gaza.

The Houthis have nevertheless managed to damage several vessels in recent months, sinking the U.K.-owned bulk carrier Rubymar on March 2 after striking the ship with an anti-ship ballistic missile on Feb. 18. The attacks reduced Suez Canal trade in the first two months of 2024 by 50% from a year earlier, the IMF reported in March.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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