Review of Operation Sophia

Rear Admiral Credendino, commanding Operation Sophia, and the Ministers of Defense on the deck of the San Giusto (© NGV / B2)

(B2) At the informal meeting of Defense Ministers in Malta, Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino took stock of the first 21 months of operation of the European operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med / Sophia), which he commands.

35000 people saved

Operation Sophia contributed to saving 35.037 people who crossed the sea to find asylum in Europe, during 241 rescue operations at sea (SOLAS). That is 11,8% of total migrants.

In addition, 422 boats used for the passage of migrants were neutralized (= destroyed). And 109 suspects were apprehended and handed over to Italian justice. It's relatively little… especially since most of the arrests seem rather to be small fry. However, at EUNAVFOR Med, we explain that the operation had a notable effect: " Traffickers have lost their freedom of action in international waters (NB: which is correct). On the side of the Member States, however, there is less enthusiasm. " The operation has not really demonstrated its effectiveness ” confides a European source to B2.

No attraction effect

As for the operation, we categorically deny any attraction effect on traffic. If the ships of Operation Sophia " weren't there, that wouldn't prevent human trafficking says his spokesperson, cap. of Antonello vessel by Renzis Sonnino. Because the obligation to rescue anyone in distress at sea will always exist. And maritime traffic is intense in the area. " Every day, nearly 50 freighters and merchant ships sail at the same time, not counting the NGO ships (about fifteen according to our sources). Given the density of maritime traffic in the central Mediterranean, relief would take place even if there was no presence of EUNAVFOR Med. It is a legal obligation, a moral obligation. »

More mixed results for the arms embargo

On the side of monitoring the arms embargo – a task started a little over six months ago (in October 2016) – the results are more mixed. 442 verifications hailing, 44 friendly approaches with boarding with the captain's agreement (“may I visit you”), one inspection (for a frankly suspicious boat) and seven flag investigations (checking of papers on board the crew, cargo). On the side of the operation, we recognize it, " we do not yet have a complete picture, there is a deterrent effect. But arms trafficking uses different routes. »

Five ships at sea

The operation now has five ships at sea: the Italian landing ship San Giusto (L-9894), the Spanish multipurpose frigate Canary Islands (F-86), the auxiliary German ship Rhine (A-513), the British multirole oceanographic vessel Echo (H-87), the French high seas patrol boat Commandant Birot (F-796). The first ship serves as a flagship, the next two (Spanish and German) are more dedicated to rescue at sea – but the German ship includes a Lithuanian boarding team –, the last two (French and British) are more particularly dedicated to control of the embargo at sea.

four planes

In the air, the operation has four planes: two planes chartered by Luxembourg (from the company CAE aviation), a Spanish plane and a French surveillance plane (Falcon or other depending on availability).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, in Valletta)

Read also: The Sophia operation is rowing. Why ?

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).