Ferry with Americans aboard finally reaches Malta

By Selcan Hacaoglu

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 25 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Evacuees from different countries queue to board a ship to be evacuate from Benghazi sea port, Libya, on Friday Feb. 25, 2011. Tens of thousands of foreigners are trying to flee Libya, with Turks and Chinese climbing aboard ships by the thousands. Europeans are mostly boarding evacuation flights while North Africans have been racing to border crossings in overcrowded vans.

Hussein Malla, Associated Press

VALLETTA, Malta — After three days of delays, a U.S.-chartered ferry carrying Americans and other foreigners out of the chaos of Libya finally arrived Friday at the Mediterranean island of Malta.

The Maria Dolores ferry evacuated over 300 passengers, including at least 167 U.S. citizens, away from the turmoil that has engulfed the North African nation as residents rise up over Moammar Gadhafi's iron-fisted rule.

Minutes after the ship docked in Malta's Valletta harbor, a few people on wheelchairs were escorted out. Women holding babies then walked down a ramp, while others held the hands of children as they stepped off the ship after 8-hour voyage across the choppy Mediterranean Sea.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a tweet the arrivals were "a very gratifying picture."

The passengers have been stuck aboard the catamaran since Wednesday in their quest to escape Libya's escalating unrest, but strong winds and high seas had prevented the ferry from leaving the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Tens of thousands of foreigners have been fleeing Libya this week. Turkish and Chinese workers climbed aboard ships by the thousands, Europeans mostly boarded evacuation flights and North Africans have been heading to Libya's borders with Egypt and Tunisia in overcrowded vans.

A U.S.-chartered flight carrying other American evacuees also left Tripoli on Friday, bound for Istanbul. Another charter, this one sent by Canada, left Tripoli on Friday with only its crew aboard after it could not find any Canadians citizens waiting at the airport.

China dispatched a navy ship to support the evacuation of its citizens. An estimated 30,000 Chinese live in Libya, working on dams, roads and other infrastructure projects. Most are now seeking to flee the country, where fighting between rebels and Libyan militiamen loyal to Gadhafi has killed hundreds. Chinese state media reported Friday that about 12,000 Chinese have been evacuated so far.

Still, bad weather forced thousands of Chinese to remain in Libya as their Greek ship stayed in port. About 6,000 were expected to head to the island of Crete on Saturday.

China also evacuated more than 450 citizens by plane and bus Friday — nearly half of them employees of Sinohydro, a state-owned company involved in construction, engineering, investment and real estate.

Gong Xuefei, a Sinohydro employee based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, told the official Xinhua News Agency that the evacuees first took buses to the border with Egypt, then traveled to Cairo, then flew home.

"The whole journey lasted more than 30 hours. It was exhausting," he said.

India was sending two flights a day starting Saturday to evacuate some of the 18,000 Indians in Libya, as well as sending ships.

The Italian military ship San Giorgio left the Libyan coast Friday with about 245 people, half of them Italians, said the ship's captain Enrico Giurelli. Rough seas and strong winds had delayed the operation. The ship is expected to arrive in Sicily on Sunday.

Another few dozen Italians and other foreigners were evacuated aboard an Italian C-130 plane that arrived Friday at an air field near Rome, but two dozen Italians allegedly robbed in southern Libya still awaited evacuation, the ANSA news agency said. They are reportedly running out of food.

Italy was also in touch with Libyan authorities over 150 employees of an Italian company who were stranded at the border with Tunisia in a documents dispute.

"The situation in Libya is getting worse. We are not talking about chaos anymore, but really about a civil war," Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki said on TVN24.

Poland appealed to its 400 citizens in Libya to leave as quickly as possible, saying the window of opportunity was narrowing.

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