EU launches anti-smuggler operation in the Mediterranean

EU begins new operation to capture boats smuggling refugees across the Mediterranean

The EU is beginning a new operation to intercept boats smuggling refugees across the Mediterranean, international media report.

The BBC says that under the new project, Operation Sophia, naval vessels will be able to board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for human trafficking. The EU has so far focused its efforts on surveillance and rescue operations.

The first phase of the EU’s operation, the EUNavfor Med was launched in June, and made use of naval surveillance to detect smugglers' boats and monitor trafficking patterns from Libya towards Italy and Malta. The second phase, Operation Sophia, was named after a baby born on an EU ship that rescued her mother off the coast of Libya in August.

Statistics show that so far this year, more than 130,000 migrants and refugees have crossed to Europe from the north African coast, with over 2,700 drowning.

The huge numbers of migrants reaching Europe have led to a crisis within the EU, with member states at odds on how to deal with the influx. The most perilous journey is from Libya to Italy, but many refugees are opting for the journey through Turkey and Greece.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will make a rare joint address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, where they are expected to talk about the  migration crisis. The only previous such address was in 1989 with then French President Francois Mitterrand and the German leader Helmut Kohl.

The BBC reports that the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini explained in September: "We'll be able to board, search, seize vessels in international waters, [and] suspected smugglers and traffickers apprehended will be transferred to the Italian judicial authorities."