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Operation Sophia: Fighting human trafficking in the Mediterranean



Decision (CFSP) 2015/778 setting up a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED)


It establishes an EU military crisis management operation designed to help disrupt human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED, and later renamed EUNAVFORMED Operation Sophia after a baby born on board one of the rescue vessels).

This would involve systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels and assets used or suspected of being used by smugglers or traffickers in accordance with applicable international law.



Operation Sophia’s main tasks in relation to human smuggling and trafficking are divided into 3 phases:

  • in a first phase, supporting the detection and monitoring of migration networks through information gathering and patrolling;
  • in a second phase:
    • conducting boarding, search, seizure and diversion on the high seas of vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking, in line with international law;
    • conducting boarding, search, seizure and diversion of vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking on the high seas or in territorial and internal waters* of a coastal state; this needs to meet the conditions set out in any applicable United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution or have the consent by the coastal state concerned;
  • in a third phase, in accordance with any applicable UNSC resolution or consent by the coastal state concerned, take all necessary measures against a vessel and related assets which are suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking, in the territory of that state, under the conditions set out in that resolution or consent; this may include the disposal of or the rendering inoperable of the vessels and/or assets.

To move on to the second phase, the Council must assess whether the conditions for transition beyond the first phase have been met, taking into account any applicable UNSC resolution and consent by the coastal states concerned.

Supporting tasks

  • Operation Sophia assists in capacity building and in the training of the Libyan coast guard and navy in law enforcement tasks at sea, in particular to prevent human smuggling and trafficking.
  • As part of its supporting task to implement the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya, Operation Sophia gathers and shares information with relevant partners and agencies; this contributes to a comprehensive maritime situational awareness .

EU Operation Commander and Headquarters

The decision appoints an EU Operation Commander and designates Rome as the EU Operation headquarters.

Planning and launch of the operation

The decision to launch Operation Sophia is taken by the Council on the recommendation of the Operation Commander, following approval of the operation plan and the rules of engagement.

Political control and strategic direction

Under the responsibility of the Council and of the High Representative (HR), the Political and Security Committee (PSC) exercises the political control and strategic direction of Operation Sophia. The Council permits the PSC to take the relevant decisions in accordance with Article 38 of the Treaty on European Union. The Council’s authorisation includes the powers to amend:

  • the planning documents, including the operations plan,
  • the chain of command,
  • the rules of engagement.

The PSC reports to the Council at regular intervals. The chair of the EU Military Committee (EUMC), in turn, reports to the PSC regularly on the conduct of Operation Sophia.

Military direction

The EUMC monitors the proper execution of Operation Sophia conducted under the responsibility of the EU Operation Commander.

Consistency of EU response and coordination

The HR ensures that Operation Sophia is consistent with the EU’s development and humanitarian assistance programmes. The HR, assisted by the European External Action Service, acts as a primary point of contact with the United Nations, the authorities of the countries in the region and other international bodies working in the region (e.g. NATO, the African Union and the League of Arab States).

Involvement of non-EU countries

The EU may invite non-EU countries to participate in Operation Sophia. Those non-EU countries making a significant military contribution would have the same rights and obligations in terms of day-to-day management of the operation as the EU countries involved.

Financial arrangements

The decision also stipulates the financial arrangements with regard to Operation Sophia. The common costs of the military operation are administered in accordance with Decision (CFSP) 2015/528.


It has applied since 18 May 2015. In July 2017, Operation Sophia’s mandate was extended to 31 December 2018.


For more information, see:


Territorial and internal waters: under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, other than in archipelagic countries (consisting of islands), a country’s territorial waters are the coastal waters extending for a maximum of 12 nautical miles from the baseline (the low-water mark), while internal waters are that country’s waters on the land side of that baseline, e.g. rivers, canals, certain bays, estuaries, etc.


Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/778 of 18 May 2015 on a European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED) (OJ L 122, 19.5.2015, pp. 31-35)

Successive amendments to Decision (CFSP) 2015/778 have been incorporated into the original document. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union — Title V — General provisions on the Union’s External action and specific provisions on the common foreign and security policy — Chapter 2 — Specific provisions on the common foreign and security policy — Section 1 — Common provisions — Article 38 (ex Article 25 TEU) (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 36)

last update 07.12.2017