• European Union aims to extend navy mission by a year
  • Operation Sophia seeks to train Libyan coast guard, navy

The European Union is seeking to extend its naval mission in the central Mediterranean by a year and work with Libya’s fragile new government as the 28-nation bloc struggles to deter people-smugglers plying the often fatal route.

Operation Sophia, a mission that combines search-and-rescue with seizing traffickers and their boats, has been requested to urgently start training the Libyan coast guard and navy, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said in a statement on Friday. The action requires approval by EU governments.

The mission’s task would be extended by a year “with continued emphasis on its core mandate of disrupting the business model of human smugglers and traffickers,” Mogherini said.

The force has so far saved migrants and seized people-smugglers and their vessels chiefly in international waters, entering Libyan waters only in emergencies. Under plans being considered by the force’s commanders, which would also require approval by governments, it could regularly patrol Libyan waters too.

Important Deterrent

Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, the mission commander, told reporters at a Rome conference on Thursday: “Operation Sophia’s biggest success is that smugglers can’t exit Libya, and that we have contributed to the arrest of 70 suspected traffickers. It is an important deterrent.”

Credendino said that the virtual closing of a Balkan route following an agreement between the EU and Turkey to stem migrant flows “will probably have an impact on the flows of migrants in the central Mediterranean to Italy.”

“We are in the hands of the Libyan government,” Credendino said. “We cannot go in if we are not invited by the Libyan government. If they request it, we are willing to help.”

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