The Lithuanian Ministry of Defense has deployed a 12-man strong vessel boarding team to the European Union-led operation Sophia aimed at curbing human and arms smuggling activity in the Mediterranean Sea.
The team embarked the German Navy tender FGS Rhein on March 6 during a ceremony at Lithuanian Navy base Klaipeda.
According to the Lithuanian MOD, they are planned to be replaced by the second vessel boarding team after two or three months.
“The European Union-led operation Sophia in the Mediterranean is particularly important to and is prioritised by the union– it aims at disrupting human trafficking from North Africa and enforcing the arms embargo on Libya,” Vice Minister of National Defence Vytautas Umbrasas said at the ceremony.
The two teams Lithuania prepared for the deployment are based on Lithuanian Navy personnel and supplemented with military police, land force and special operations forces soldiers.
Lithuania has been contributing to EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia since 2015. In addition to the deployed vessel boarding team, two officers are serving aboard the command ship of the operation – Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi, and one more officer serves at operational headquarters in Rome, Italy.
Operation Sophia was launched by the European Council in May 2015 to disrupt human smuggling and trafficking in the southern part of the Mediterranean.
As of June 2016 the Council expanded the operation mandate with two auxiliary tasks: to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya, and to train Libyan forces for coast protection.