A fleet of European warships began a new operation in the Mediterranean to block smugglers of refugees, as Germany and France went to seek further support from the the European Union.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande are due to jointly address the European Parliament, a move unprecedented since 1989, to give off a united front in the face of dangerous fractures developing in the EU.
Operation Sophia, the naval mission, includes six vessels in international waters off the coast of Libya, whose crews aim to stop, board, seize and destroy traffickers’ boats, to head off the hundreds of thousands of refugees paying huge sums to make the treacherous, cross-mediterranean journey, which more than 3,000 have not survived in 2015 alone.
This year, more than half a million refugees have arrived over sea originating mainly from war-torn Syria, the greatest instance of mass-migration since World War II.
The primary phase of the operation, a surveillance and monitory mission of trafficker networks, as well as rescuing refugees from unstable boats, began in June.
"We follow the traffickers and want to arrest them and seize their ships," Captain Stefan Klatt, who commands the Werra, one of the German ships that is taking part in the operation, told Agence France-Presse.
Although the EU gave the mission in international waters the green light in September, warships will not be able to give chase of traffickers into Libyan waters.
Further warships are expected from the Belgian, British and Slovenian navies at the end of the month, to add to a force of 1,318 personnel.
When it was first announced earlier this year, the mission was denounced as tackling the wrong part of the issues: advocates instead call for receiving and relocating refugees more competently, rather than targeting the smugglers.
As the situation becomes increasingly desperate and nationalist and eurosceptic sentiment surges, Merkel and Hollande were due to give a rallying cry in their speech to European parliamentarians in Strasbourg.