Oil workers rescued by SAS in Libya return home

By Sylvia Hui

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 27 2011 5:46 a.m. MST

British nationals arriving from Libya disembark in the port of Piraeus, Greece on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011. The ferry Nissos Rodos arrived early Sunday from Benghazi, eastern Libya, carrying 390 passengers of various nationalities from strife-torn Libya.

Kostas Tsironis, Associated Press

LONDON — British media were full of praise Sunday for a secret commando raid by British Special Forces that plucked 150 oil workers from the remote Libyan desert, but thousands of other foreigners were still stuck in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

The British government had been embarrassed by earlier botched attempts to rescue citizens stranded in the chaos — its first rescue flight broke down and became stuck on a London runway on Wednesday. But on Sunday, newspapers could not gush enough about the "daring and dramatic" military operation by two RAF Hercules planes that brought stranded citizens to Malta.

"SAS swoops in dramatic Libya rescue," the Sunday Telegraph headline read.

The government is still trying to locate remaining Britons in Libya, and more military-style rescue missions are reportedly planned. The frigate HMS Cumberland is returning to the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi from Malta to evacuate more people.

"We are working intensively to establish who is still in Libya and where they are," Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC.

One evacuee said the military plane he boarded in Libya was supposed to carry around 65 people, but quickly grew to more than double that.

"It was very cramped but we were just glad to be out of there," Patrick Eyles, a 43-year-old Briton, said at Malta International Airport.

In Tripoli, two ferries trying to carry foreigners out of Libya were waiting to leave Tripoli, delayed by officialdom and rough seas. A Russian-chartered ferry arrived at a port further east to pick up more than 1,000 people and thousands more people finally made it to safety in Crete.

Three more ships arrived in Greece from the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi early Sunday, two of them at Heraklion on the island of Crete carrying about 4,200 passengers, mostly Chinese but also 750 Bangladeshis and 200 Vietnamese, Greek authorities said.

Another ferry, with 2,000 more Chinese from Benghazi, is expected to reach Crete on Monday night, shipping agents said.

Air China planned four flights Sunday from Crete, carrying about 1,200 Chinese back to their homeland.

Earlier Sunday, another ship docked in the Athens port of Piraeus carrying 390 evacuees of various nationalities, chiefly Brazilians, Portuguese and British.

In Tripoli, Henri Saliba, managing director of Virtu Ferries, said the San Gwann is accepting anyone who wants to board and was almost at capacity with more than 400 passengers. The Maria Dolores ferry has been chartered by a private company and has some 90 passengers on board.

They started taking passengers on Saturday evening but Libyan police only let people board in a trickle. Then bad weather conditions on Sunday morning prevented their departure. Saliba said the ferries hope to leave Tripoli on Sunday evening and arrive in Valletta, Malta, on Monday.

He said conditions at the port in Tripoli were currently safe and calm.

The sheer numbers of foreigners leaving Libya as Moammar Gadhafi's regime attacks anti-government protesters has been staggering. At least 19,000 Chinese, 15,000 Turks and 1,400 Italians had been evacuated, most working in the construction and oil industries.

In addition, some 22,000 people have fled across the Libyan border to Tunisia and another 15,000 crossed the border into Egypt, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council.

Meanwhile, the Interfax news agency, citing Russia's Emergencies Ministry, said the St. Stephan ferry had docked in the central Libyan port of Ras Lanuf, where it is to take aboard 1,126 evacuees, including 124 Russians.

Two Turkish frigates evacuating more than 1,700 people were expected to arrive in Turkey's Mediterranean port of Marmaris late Sunday. Four other Turkish civilian ships — escorted by the Turkish navy — were also on their way to evacuate more people from three Libyan ports — Tripoli, Misrata and Ras Lanuf.

Turkey had up to 30,000 citizens mostly working in construction projects in Libya before the trouble began. It was not clear how many more needed to be evacuated.

ITAR-Tass, citing the Ukrainian foreign ministry, said a plane carrying 185 evacuees, 122 of them Ukrainian, landed Sunday at Boryspil Airport in Kiev.

More than 2,800 Chinese workers landed in Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete aboard a Greek ship on Saturday. Further to the west, another 2,200 Chinese arrived in Valletta after a long journey from the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi. Hours earlier, in the dark of night, a U.S-chartered ferry dropped off over 300 passengers in Valletta who spent three days waiting to leave Libya's chaotic capital.

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