Between 2015 and 2017, the Irish Naval Service deployed a number of ships on rotation to participate in 'Operation Pontus', a humanitarian search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean which was conducted as part of a bilateral agreement with the Italian authorities. Irish naval vessels subsequently participated in the EU naval mission in the Mediterranean, EUNAVFOR MED, Operation Sophia, in 2017 and 2018.
Operation Sophia has played a decisive role in improving the overall maritime security in the Central Mediterranean. This EU mission is primarily a security operation, designed to disrupt the traffickers business model and counter oil and weapons smuggling.
A decision was adopted by the European Council on 29th March 2019 to extend the mandate of Operation Sophia for 6 months with a temporary suspension of its naval assets, while Member States continue working on a solution related to the disembarkation of any rescued migrants. The Operation mandate continues to be implemented through strengthening surveillance by air assets as well as reinforcing training support to the Libyan Coastguard and Navy. As the suspension of naval assets under Operation Sophia remains in place, and there is no agreement on the locations for the disembarkation of any rescued migrants, there are no plans for the return of Naval Service vessels to the Mediterranean at this time. Defence Forces personnel continue to occupy three posts in Operational Headquarters of the Operation Sophia mission in Rome.
It should be noted that although the deployment of EU Naval assets to Operation Sophia has been suspended, EU Member States have highlighted the importance of continuing to work closely with the relevant authorities and international organisations to improve the protection of refugees and migrants.