efe-epaBrussels, Jul 19

The European Union (EU) on Tuesday confirmed Italy's desire to revise the operational mandate of the EU's Operation Sophia mission regarding the disembarkation of migrants saved at sea.

Operation Sophia is the EU naval operation set up to disrupt the business model of migrant smugglers and human traffickers in the Southern Central Mediterranean.

Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the EU's External Action (EUEA,) stated at a press conference in Brussels: "Italy has requested the revision of the Operation Sophia mandate (...) and has asserted it no longer intends to apply the current rules on disembarkation of those rescued by assets of Sophia," and would no longer allow for automatic (migrant) disembarkation.

The Italian announcement was made Wednesday during a European Commission (EC) Political and Security Commission (PSC) meeting which will convene again on Friday to further discuss this matter.

"The Italian side needs to formalize the request but I believe that discussions also in the context of the PSC will continue so discussions are not yet over." Maja Kocijancic added.

When asked if the Italian departure could put Operation Sophia's continuity at risk, spokesperson Kocijancic replied "the implications are currently being assessed" and in any case, that they would be discussed in "future PSC meetings."

Until now, EU naval forces assigned to Operation Sophia rescuing migrants in the Central Mediterranean disembarked migrants in Italian ports where the European Border Agency (Frontex) had established identification and registry centers.

Spain is due to take Operation Sophia's command on Sept 1, although its mission headquarters will remain in Rome.