The European Union will next week activate the first phase of a plan to disrupt the business of human traffickers in the Mediterranean and destroy the boats they have been using to ships tens of thousands of migrants toward the EU, officials said.

The officials, who spoke on conditions of anonymity because the official decision was only expected for Monday's meeting of EU foreign ministers, said that the EU would start using ships, planes and drones for surveillance and intelligence-gathering but stay away from politically sensitive actions such as boarding and destroying smuggling boats.

The full operation would require U.N. clearance and some consent of authorities in Libya, a major departure site for smugglers.