Operation Sophia takes fight to the traffickers

Annegret Mathari – SDA

2 minute read

EU Naval Operation Sophia: the facts and figures

GENEVA: On June 22, 2015, EU member states launched a military operation known as EUNAVFOR MED - or EU Naval Force Mediterranean. 

Later renamed Operation Sophia, it was designed to target refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean in response to a string of deadly shipwrecks.

Operation Sophia aims to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by human smugglers or traffickers. 

It's part of wider EU efforts to disrupt human smuggling and trafficking networks in the southern central Mediterranean and prevent further loss of life at sea.


Operation Sophia's aims were defined by the Council of the European Union on May 18, 2015.

In short, its purpose is to board, search, seize and divert smugglers’ vessels on the high seas and territorial waters of Libya, as well as destroy vessels and related assets suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking. 

According to EUNAVFOR MED all activities adhere to international law, including human rights, humanitarian and refugee law and the “non-refoulement” principle, meaning that no rescued person can be disembarked in a third country.

On 20 June 2016 the UE Council extended Operation Sophia’s mandate until 27 July 2017 and added additional tasks: the training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy and the implementation of the UN arms embargo off the coast of Libya.

Operation Sophia also conducts sea rescues according to the International Conventions of Safety of Life at sea (SOLAS) and Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR).

By the end of April 2017, a total of 35,037 people had been rescued at sea, coordinated by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (IMRCC).

And 109 suspected smugglers and traffickers have been arrested by Italian authorities following information provided or action taken by Operation Sophia. The Operation has also destroyed 422 boats.


Headquarters: Rome, Italy

Mission Launch: 22 June 2015

Mandate approved until: 27 July 2017

Operation Commander: Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino (Italian Navy)

Force Strength: 5 ships, 2 auxiliary ships (Germany, UK), 2 frigates (France, Spain), 1 amphibious transport dock ship (Italy), 2 helicopters (1 Italian, 1 Spain), 4 air assets (2 Luxembourg, Spain, France)

Contributing Member States: 25 (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherland, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and UK.

Operation Budget: Military assets and personnel are provided by the contributing states with the running costs and personnel costs met on a national basis. There is an additional common budget of 11.8 million euros for a 12 months until July 2017.