The deployment marked “the most serious engagement of a unit of the German navy in many decades,” navy chief Jan Christian Kaack told reporters in Berlin.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels have launched a series of attacks on ships crossing the Red Sea since November, saying their campaign was in solidarity with Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas.
The Red Sea normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The unrest has prompted some shipping companies to reroute their vessels away from the Red Sea, making them take the longer and costlier route around the southern tip of Africa.
The “Hesse” frigate set off from the northern German port of Wilhelmshaven with a crew of around 240 people, Kaack said.
It will be able to respond to potential attacks including from missiles, drones and remotely controlled “kamikaze boats”, he said.
It is expected to be tasked with escorting commercial ships and intercepting attacks.
The frigate’s mission still needs to be confirmed by the German parliament and the European Union, however.
The EU is currently considering a naval mission to improve security for merchant ships in the Red Sea.
A decision could be announced before the next meeting of EU foreign ministers on February 19.
Countries including Italy, France and Belgium have signalled an interest in joining the mission.
US and British forces meanwhile have in recent weeks carried out joint strikes aimed at reducing the Huthis’ ability to target vessels transiting the key Red Sea trade route, but the rebels have vowed to continue their attacks.
Most trade between Asia and Europe usually passes through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal that leads to the Mediterranean Sea.
According to the International Monetary Fund’s PortWatch platform, total transit volume through the Suez Canal was down 37 percent this year by January 16 compared with the same period a year earlier.
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