Ankara, Turkey: High Winds & Rough Seas Delaying Evacuations From Libya

25 Feb

A Chinese worker, who was evacuated from Libya reacts with family members after arriving, at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing Friday,
 AP – A Chinese worker, who was evacuated from Libya reacts with family members after arriving, at Beijing …

 By SELCAN HACAOGLU, Associated Press Selcan Hacaoglu, Associated Press :

ANKARA, Turkey – Hundreds of Americans and other foreigners were stuck on a ferry for a third straight day Friday, unable to leave strife-torn Libya due to rough seas, while high winds affected the takeoff of Turkish military planes involved in the evacuation effort.

The Americans and others have been waiting aboard the Maria Dolores at Tripoli’s As-shahab port since Wednesday. The U.S. State Department said in a tweet that 167 U.S. citizens and 118 citizens of other countries were on the ferry. The ferry hopes to depart at the earliest Friday afternoon. It would take at least six hours for it to reach Valetta, Malta.

Tens of thousands of foreigners are trying to flee the chaos in Libya, with Turks and Chinese climbing aboard ships by the thousands, Europeans mostly boarding evacuation flights and North Africans racing to border crossings in overcrowded vans. European countries scrambled to send more ships and military planes to the North African nation and Britain mulled whether to send in its military to rescue stranded oil workers.

The British naval ship HMS Cumberland, which sailed from Benghazi on Thursday afternoon for Malta, is carrying 207 evacuees on board, including 68 Britons. The trip usually takes at least 15 hours but it is expected to take hours longer because of rough seas.

Greece had to overcome serious hurdles to obtain landing clearance to evacuate 230 Greeks from Libya to Athens early Friday.

“It was total chaos on every level, and quite troubling for the people involved. But we got our people out,” said Deputy Foreign Miniter Dimitris Dollis, who traveled to Libya to coordinate the effort. “It took us three days just to get clearance to land (in Tripoli and two regional airports). It’s difficult to get permission when when no one is running the country.”

Turkey also faced severe problems in obtaining landing permits but on Friday, it was able to launch a new air bridge between Tripoli and the southern airport of Dalaman. Four Turkish military cargo planes brought more than 400 Turks home from Tripoli Friday morning, the Foreign Ministry said.

Turkey has so far evacuated nearly 8,000 of its 25,000-30,000 citizens, most of whom work in construction projects in Libya. Around 200 Turkish firms operate in Libya.

“We have asked companies who are not facing an imminent danger not to evacuate their workers from Libya,” Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told ATV television in an interview on Thursday night. “But if they are in danger, then we will arrange transfer for them to airports or ports and take them.”

Strong winds on Friday were affecting eight more Turkish military planes ready to take off from an airport close to the Mediterranean, NTV television reported. Turkish Airlines is also heavily involved in the evacuation effort but several commercial airlines suspended flights to Libya on Thursday amid scenes of chaos and deteriorating security and safety at Tripoli airport.

Bad weather also forced Greece to suspend sea evacuation of thousands of Chinese to the island of Crete on Friday. But about 6,000 Chinese nationals are expected at Cretan ports Saturday, according to local officials and tourism organizers.

Up to 15,000 Chinese — about half the number of Chinese working in Libya on construction and oil projects — are expected to arrive by ferry in Crete and fly home on chartered flights.

China said Friday it was sending a navy ship to protect its citizens being evacuated from Libya. Chartered flights from Crete to China are expected to start early next week

Meanwhile, seven Turks who escaped from Libya aboard a 23-meter (75-foot) boat safely reached the Turkish resort of Datca on Friday following a three-day voyage, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The situation in Libya has grown increasingly unstable, with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi trying to roll back the uprising against his rule that has advanced closer to his stronghold in Tripoli, attacking two nearby cities in battles that killed at least 17 people. But rebels made new gains, seizing a military air base, as Gadhafi blamed Osama bin Laden for the upheaval on Thursday.

Indonesia said it was preparing to evacuate all 875 of its citizens, mostly construction workers and students, believed to be in Libya.

Italian foreign ministry crisis unit officials said that so far more than 1,100 Italians have left Libya, either by commercial flights or Italian air force flights or naval vessels, leaving at most around 400 Italians in the country.


Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.

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