Operation Sophia, the EU-mission in the Mediterranean, has been making headlines with migrant-rescue operations. The main goal of the mission, however, is to disrupt the networks of migrant smugglers.
The German Navy says the Op Sophia is succeeding in this undertaking.
The EU-operation entered the second, operational phase around four months ago. During this phase, EU naval forces are actively engaging and apprehending smugglers at sea.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), one million people reached Europe over the Mediterranean Sea in 2015. Of those, 154.000 crossed the Central Mediterranean Sea. The IOM estimates that 3.000 people died on this route. The German Navy said they alone rescued 10.000 people.
While the first phase consisted of intelligence gathering regarding the smuggler networks, routes and methods, the second phase allowed EU forces to stop, search and confiscate suspected boats.
The smugglers have therefore been avoiding the high seas since the second phase began, according to the German Navy. Their objective is not to loose their bigger wooden boats to EU units so they can use them again and again.
The smugglers know Operation Sophia forces are still not allowed to seize vessels in territorial waters. This is subject to a UN Security Council Resolution or an authorization from Libya.
Italian authorities have, so far, been able to apprehend 46 suspected smugglers on the basis of intelligence provided by Op Sophia vessels. Moreover, European border protection agency FRONTEX has made 470 arrests. The operation is showing results of a broad engagement in the fight against criminal networks.
22 European Nations are currently engaged with 1.300 soldiers and personnel in Operation Sophia. An Italian Admiral is leading the naval force from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The headquarters in Rome are also under the command of an Italian Admiral.