“The Mediterranean has for too long offered the vision of a sea of death for people driven out of their homes by instabliity,” French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday.
“Faced with this situation, we first and foremost have a humanitarian reponsibility to save human lives (…) a responsibility to show solidarity to those people persecuted or threatened by smugglers and traffickers and a reponsibility to act against those people who take advantage of the situation,” he added.
EU NavFor Med was launched last June but was limited to intelligence-gathering until Monday when member states agreed to move on to the next phase.
EU NavFor Med comprises four ships, so far - one Italian, one British and two German.
The enlarged mission will now have a fifth vessel with the French frigate.
The third phase, not agreed yet, will involve military action and “interception in deep waters”, according to Le Drian.
France has dismantled 177 networks of smugglers since the beginning of this year, meaning “about 3,300 people”, French Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said at a meeting in Brussels Monday.
That’s a 25 per cent increase on 2014 “and we are going to intensify the action”, he added.
More than 2,000 people died in 2015 while trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean according to the International Organisation for Migration.