By Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council on Friday authorized European Union naval operations for one year to seize and dispose of vessels operated by human traffickers in the high seas off Libya.
The 15-member council adopted the British-drafted resolution with 14 votes in favor. Venezuela abstained.
The resolution approved the second of three phases of an EU naval mission intended to help stem the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe, which has escalated into a major crisis in recent months.
The third phase of the EU mission, which is not covered by the resolution, would involve European operations in Libyan territorial waters and coastal areas.
Libya initially objected to the draft U.N. resolution on the high seas mission, but its U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi wrote to the council Tuesday to say the country's concerns had been allayed and it agreed to the final draft.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft welcomed the approval, and said "any action will be proportional in keeping with the limits authorized by this resolution and used solely against the smugglers and empty boats."
He said any migrants rescued would be taken to Europe.
Still, he cautioned that naval missions against smugglers would not tackle the root causes of the migration problem.
"Action against smugglers on the high sea won't solve this crisis alone," he said. "But it will send a message that people cannot profit from this evil trade with impunity. It will save lives."
The operation only covers the migration route from Libya and will not apply to the route that refugees have been using to flee the wars in Syria and Iraq, from Turkey through Greece and the Balkans.
Russia and the African members of the council – Chad, Angola and Nigeria – had been wary of authorizing the use of force. But they ended up voting in favor of the measure.
Libya descended into chaos after a revolution in 2011 led to the ouster and killing of leader Muammar Gaddafi, with two competing governments backed by militias scrambling for control of the oil-producing country. A power vacuum has allowed Islamic State militants to gain a foothold in the North African state.
The United Nations on Thursday proposed a unity government for Libya but the deal has not been accepted by all sides.
The International Organization for Migration said this week that nearly 3,000 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year, while 557,899 migrants have reached Europe.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)