EU High Representative visits Operation Sophia flagship one year after 800 drown off Italy
High Representative of the European Union and Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, accompanied by Pedro Serrano EEAS Deputy Secretary General and General, Michail Kostarakos, Chairman of EU Military Committee (EUMC), visited the Italian Aircraft Carrier Cavour, EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia flagship.
“I am honoured and proud to pay this first visit here. We were together in the headquarters in Rome few months ago. And we are here exactly one year after we saw the tragic loss of lives in this very same sea – it was on the April 18 last year“, Mogherini said.
One of the main reasons this EU mission was initiated in the first place was a tragedy in which more than 800 people drowned on a ship headed for the Italian island Lampedusa.
This island is now being used by EU authorities to bring the migrants lifted from sea to safety. Operation Sophia vessels have so far rescued some 13,000 people while the International Organization for Migration data says that an overall 24,000 people were lifted from the Central Mediterranean Sea.
Addressing the international media intervened to the press conference organized for the occasion Mogherini added: “When we mention saving lives we also come to the reason why we named this operation “Sophia”: this comes out of the name of the baby who was born on one of our vessels, at sea. And this baby is today in good health and able to play rather than finding death at sea.”
“We have saved close to 13 000 lives at sea in this six months of operations. We have arrested suspects, smugglers and traffickers, guaranteeing them to the Italian judicial authorities. We have neutralised more than one hundred vessels at sea.”
Mogherini further said the EU Ministers would discuss the possibility to move to phase 2-B which would have Op Sophia vessels move from high sea directly to Libyan territorial waters in case the Libyan authorities request so.
This decision, however, is in the hands of the Libyan government Mogherini stressed: “It is up to the Libyan authorities to determine their priorities because the leadership and the ownership has to be a Libyan one. But obviously we are ready to discuss with the Ministers what is needed to be ready in the case, in a moment when an invitation comes to move to the territorial waters of Libya to work in partnership with the Libyans.”