A ministry statement described the action as self-defence by the Duilio, which is helping protect trade routes from drone and missile attacks by Yemen's Houthi militia.

"The drone, with similar characteristics to those already used in previous attacks, was about 6 km (3.73 miles) from the Italian ship, flying towards it," the statement said.

Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said the Houthi attacks, which are intended to show solidarity with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the war against Israel, were part of a strategy of hybrid warfare against some countries.

"The Houthi terrorist attacks are a serious violation of international law and an attack on the security of the maritime traffic on which our economy depends," he said.

In February, the European Union launched a naval mission to the Red Sea, dubbed Eunavfor Aspides, to protect shipping in the area. Italy said it would supply the admiral in command for the mission.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante, E£diting by Timothy Heritage)