The European Union has bestowed its naval mission in the Mediterranean – Operation Sophia – with powers to stop vessels carrying arms which may fall into the hands of the Islamic State.
EU foreign ministers voted to increase the remit of the multi-national naval mission to enforce a UN arms embargo in Libya. The country has been awash with weapons, slipping into anarchy following the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The fractious infighting and a divisive civil war in the country has provided the Islamic State with a foothold in North Africa and the southern coast of the Mediterranean.
At the same time the EU has said Operation Sophia – named after a migrant baby plucked from the sea during a search and rescue mission – would also increase its efforts to break up people smuggling operations in Libya.
"We must act, both against those who exploit the migrants, those traffickers who exploit this misery, and against the arms trafficking that benefits Daesh," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters at a meeting in Luxembourg, referring to Islamic State militants.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: "Getting control of illegal arms trafficking then gives the international community a lever, because we can consider relaxations in the arms embargo to allow certain groups access to ammunition."
Britain is expected to send another ship to the mission, as well as helicopters and other military assets from 24 EU governments, Reuters reported. Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain have contributed warships for the mission, which was previously operated solely by the Italian coastguard, navy and air force and was called Operation Mare Nostrum. It ran from October 2013 to October 2014.
The international community sought to reassess its arms embargo on Libya in mid-May. Representatives from the US and another 19 countries said they were ready to support efforts by Libya's Government of National Accord to secure "lethal weapons" necessary to counter IS (Daesh) and other terrorist groups holding sway in the region.
Libyan forces have had an unexpected success taking key positions from IS strongholds in the coastal town of Sirte. On 11 June Libya's government of national accord, reported its forces had encircled the city.