BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Monday announced that it will be able to go after suspected migrant trafficking and smuggling vessels in the international waters of the Mediterranean as of next week.
Monday's EU statement said Operation Sophia will allow naval personnel of EU nations "to board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking on the high seas, in line with international law" as of Oct. 7.
In reaction to the tens of thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean and the thousands of lives lost, the EU set up an operation that initially centered on saving those drifting on the high seas and would later also include directly targeting smuggling and trafficking operations.
The operation had been launched in June and since it reached operational capability on July 27, it has saved 2,186 people from drowning.
EU member states now committed enough ships, helicopters and other military equipment to start the active phase of the counter-smuggling operation.
"Today's decision takes the EU naval operation from its intelligence-gathering phase to its operational and active phase against human smugglers on the high seas," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
EU officials also agreed to rename the EUNAVFOR Med operation "Sophia" after a baby born on a rescue ship this summer off the Libyan coast.
As part of the rescue operation, four ships are deployed at the moment and 1,318 people are working on the action involving 22 of the member states. It wasn't immediately clear by how many ships and personnel the enlarged mission, which includes counter-trafficking action, would be expanded.
After the crisis centered on the central Mediterranean during the spring and early summer, action has spread to the east through the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean.
The EU says however that the central route remains by far the most deadly with an estimated 2.2 percent of deaths compared to 0.06 percent on the other route.