The European Union has said it will begin combating human traffickers in the Mediterranean. The operation has been in the planning stage for several months.
Operation Sophia will allow naval forces belonging to EU member states to board, search and seize suspicious vessels as of October 7, according to a statement released by the EU on Monday.
The EU's Political and Security Committee began planning the operation in June. Originally called EUNAVFOR Med, it initially focused on rescuing migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
Since July 27, when it first reached operational capability, 2,186 people have been saved from drowning. The second phase of the operation - dedicated to stopping human trafficking - had been put on hold until member states had committed enough equipment.
'Operational and active phase'
"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," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Currently, Operation Sophia consists of four ships, including an Italian aircraft carrier, and four planes, along with 1,318 personnel from 22 countries across Europe.
The operation's name was changed in honor of a young girl born on a German rescue ship off the coast of Libya this summer. Proposed by Mogherini, the name change drew some criticism from bloc members for not being "sufficiently military," the AFP reported.
blc/cmk (AP, AFP)