EU ministers have approved plans to establish a naval force to tackle the people-smugglers operating from Libya.
The aim is to launch the naval force next month. Its headquarters will be in Rome under an Italian admiral, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
The EU is struggling to stop a surge in illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
The EU foreign policy chief explained that there will be 3 phases in the naval operation namely intelligence gathering on smugglers, inspection and detection of smugglers’ boats and destruction of those boats.
“It is not so much the destruction of the boats but the destruction of the business models of the [smugglers’] networks themselves,” she said.
The UK has joined the EU effort to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean
UK’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the UK would help to develop the plan further.
“We are seconding some planning staff to think through the details of how it will work,” he said.
“Any destruction of boats will require some legal authority and that has to come from the United Nations but we are not at that stage yet.”
Ms Mogherini stressed that co-operation with officials in Libya, a country swamped with feuding militias, would be vital to make the operation a success.
“We are looking for a partnership – there is a responsibility the Libyans themselves have to take on their territory, for the land and sea borders.”
The mission will be led by Admiral Enrico Credendino, an Italian commander who ran the EU’s anti-piracy mission off Somalia, called Operation Atalanta.
Almost 2000 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean in 2015, a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014.
Tackling the people-smuggling networks is part of a wider EU plan for stopping the migration crisis. The European Commission has urged EU states to ease the pressure on Italy, Greece and Malta adopt national quotas for housing migrants.
The EU also wants to tighten co-operation with migrant transit countries in Africa, to make it easier to send economic migrants back home.
There are too many irregular migrants with no right to asylum managing to remain in Europe, the Commission says.
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