Weather delays Libya ferry rescue bid

Hundreds of Americans and other foreigners are spending a third day stuck unable to leave strife-torn Libya due to rough seas.

High winds have affected Turkish military planes involved in the evacuation effort.

The foreigners have been waiting aboard the Maria Dolores at Tripoli’s As-shahab port since Wednesday.

The US State Department said in a tweet that 167 US citizens and 118 citizens of other countries were on the ferry which hopes to depart at the earliest this 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.

The British warship 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 today.

“It was total chaos on every level, and quite troubling for the people involved. But we got our people out,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis, who travelled to Libya to co-ordinate 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 today, 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 this 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.

Strong winds 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 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 today. But about 6,000 Chinese nationals are expected at Cretan ports on Saturday.

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 it was sending a navy ship to protect its citizens being evacuated.

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

Indonesia said it was preparing to evacuate all 875 of its citizens believed to be in Libya.

Italian foreign ministry officials said 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.

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