Operation Sophia

Operation Sophia, formally European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EU NAVFOR Med), is a military operation of the European Union that was established as a consequence of the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks with the aim of neutralising established refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean. The operational headquarters is located in Rome.


The principle to establish an operation to combat people smuggling and prevent loss of life in the Mediterranean stemmed from discussions in the European Council on 20 and 23 April 2015, culminating in the issuing of a Council decision on 18 May 2015 to establish a "European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean". Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino of the Italian Navy was appointed as operation commander.[1] The Political and Security Committee appointed Italian Rear-Admiral Andrea Gueglio as force commander on 17 June 2015, and on 22 June 2015 the European Council approved the launching of EUNAVFOR Med, to take effect that day.[2][3]


On 24 August 2015, a pregnant Somali woman rescued from a refugee boat by HMS Enterprise gave birth to a child aboard the German frigate Schleswig-Holstein, the first to ever be born aboard a ship of the German Navy. At the suggestion of the attending medical personnel, the child was named Sophia.[4] This was a name associated with German naval ships named Schleswig-Holstein, as the earlier destroyer Schleswig-Holstein had used the radio call sign "Sophie X". This was itself a reference to the early battleship SMS Schleswig-Holstein, which had been dedicated to Princess Louise Sophie of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, as have later ships of the name.[5] EUNAVFORMED was subsequently renamed "Operation Sophia", after the baby born aboard Schleswig-Holstein.[5][6]

I will suggest to Member States that we change the name of our Operation: instead of calling it EUNAVFOR MED, I suggest we use the name: Sophia. To honour the lives of the people we are saving, the lives of people we want to protect, and to pass the message to the world that fighting the smugglers and the criminal networks is a way of protecting human life.[7]

Federica Mogherini, Rome, EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia Operational Headquarters, 24 September 2015


The operation aims to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels as well as enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers. The Juncker Commission, in particular the HR Federica Mogherini, views this operation as a fundamental contribution to fighting instability in the region and as a way to reduce the loss of lives at sea and increase the security of citizens of the European Union.[8]

EUNAVFOR Med consists of three phases:[9]

  • The first phase focuses on surveillance and assessment of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Mediterranean.
  • The second stage of the operation provides for the search and, if necessary, diversion of suspicious vessels.
  • The third phase would allow the disposal of vessels and related assets, preferably before use, and to apprehend traffickers and smugglers.

There is a common budget of 11.82 million euros for a 12 months period. In addition, military assets and personnel are provided by the contributing states with the running costs and personnel costs being met on a national basis.[10]

By 2016, more than 13,000 migrants had been rescued from the sea in the course of the operation.[11]

On 20 June 2016, the Council of the European Union extended Operation Sophia's mandate reinforcing it by adding two supporting tasks:[8] The length of the Operation may be continuously renewed by the Council.[12]

  • training of the Libyan coastguards and navy
  • contributing to the implementation of the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya.

On 25 July 2017, the Council of the European Union again extended Operation Sophia's mandate, while also amending its mandate to:[13]

  • set up a monitoring mechanism of trainees to ensure the long-term efficiency of the training of the Libyan Coastguard
  • conduct new surveillance activities and gather information on illegal trafficking of oil exports from Libya in accordance with UNSCR 2146 and 2362;
  • enhance the possibilities for sharing information on human trafficking with member states' law enforcement agencies, FRONTEX and EUROPOL.


Currently deployed





The UK's House of Lords has noted in a report that claims this kind of search-and-rescue operation acts as a ‘magnet to migrants and eases the task of smugglers, who would only need their vessels to reach the high seas’ had some validity.[19]

Also the Libyan coastguard has warned that the EU's "Operation Sophia" boosts migrant smuggling, explaining that "People, when they get rescued, call their friends to tell them that there are EU vessels only 20 miles from Libyan waters to save them."[20]

In July 2017, a House of Lords report claimed that the mission had been a failure, as it had managed neither to reduce deaths at sea or disrupt the smuggling network.[21][22]

See also


  1. "COUNCIL DECISION (CFSP) 2015/778 of 18 May 2015" (PDF). Official Journal of the European Union. 18 May 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  2. "COUNCIL DECISION (CFSP) 2015/972 of 22 June 2015" (PDF). Official Journal of the European Union. 12 June 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  3. "POLITICAL AND SECURITY COMMITTEE DECISION (CFSP) 2015/958 of 17 June 2015" (PDF). Official Journal of the European Union. 17 June 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  4. "Seenotrettung: Geburt auf deutscher Fregatte" (in German). Presse- und Informationsstab BMVg. 25 August 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  5. "About us". EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  6. "German Frigate Ends Operation Sophia Mission". navaltoday.com. 4 November 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  7. "European Union Naval Force Mediterranean EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA" (PDF). European External Action Service. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  8. "EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA - European External Action Service". European Union External Action Service. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  9. "Fact Sheet: EUNAVFOR European Union Naval Force - Mediterranean". European Union Delegation to the United Nations. 22 June 2015. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  10. TUNAKAN, BEGÜM (19 May 2015). "EU naval force in Mediterranean faces challenges over migrant crisis". Daily Sabah. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  11. "On the Mediterranean refugee patrol with the Bundeswehr". Deutsche Welle. 22 April 2016.
  12. Butler, Graham; Ratcovich, Martin (July 2016). "Operation Sophia in Uncharted Waters: European and International Law Challenges for the EU Naval Mission in the Mediterranean Sea". Nordic Journal of International Law. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 'The trajectory for how long Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean will continue is an open question.'
  13. "EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia: mandate extended until 31 December 2018". Council of the European Union. July 2017.
  14. "German warship rescues 615 from the Mediterranean". Naval Today. 17 March 2016.
  15. "Assets". European Union External Action Service. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  16. "Naval ship to join mission tackling people smugglers". 2017-09-29. Retrieved 2017-09-30.
  17. "Rescued more than 650 migrants off the Libyan coast". News Directory. 20 March 2016.
  18. "HMS Richmond and HMS Enterprise rescue 541 migrants from the Med". The Daily Telegraph. 29 October 2015.
  19. Stevens, John. "How Navy patrols in the Mediterranean became a 'migrant magnet' | Daily Mail Online". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  20. "EU boosts migrant smuggling, says Libyan coastguard". EUobserver. 12 July 2017. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  21. Peter Foster. "EU anti-migrant naval mission in Med is a 'failure', Lords report finds". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  22. "Operation Sophia follow-up - UK Parliament". Parliament of the United Kingdom. 2017-07-04. Retrieved 2017-07-12.

Further reading

  • Graham Butler; Martin Ratcovich (2016). "Operation Sophia in Uncharted Waters: European and International Law Challenges for the EU Naval Mission in the Mediterranean Sea". Nordic Journal of International Law. 85 (3). doi:10.1163/15718107-08503003.
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