Ferry carrying Americans reaches Malta

By Mark Carlson and Selcan Hacaoglu
Associated Press / February 26, 2011

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

The Maria Dolores ferry evacuated over 300 passengers, including at least 167 US citizens, away from the turmoil that has engulfed the North African nation as residents rise up over Moammar Khadafy’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.

“Oh, it was a long ordeal. We are glad it’s over,’’ said evacuee Sara Ali, a 30-year-old with dual Libyan-American citizenship who lives in Libya. “We’re just really tired and really happy to be out and safe.’’

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.

“It was pretty uncomfortable just because of the delay,’’ said Lucile Usielmerazcerna, another evacuee from Santa Cruz, California. “It was really rough waters coming over here, also having to stay in the dock for 2 or 3 days.’’

“Right now I’m just feeling kind of good that we are here,’’ she added.

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 US-chartered flight also left Tripoli yesterday. It arrived in Istanbul later that night with Americans — some working for the US Embassy — and one British citizen on board.

Another charter, this one sent by Canada, left Tripoli yesterday 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 Khadafy has killed hundreds. Chinese state media reported yesterday 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 today.

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

India was sending two flights a day starting today 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 yesterday 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 tomorrow.

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.

Britain, meanwhile, denied a report that it had paid bribes to Libyan officials to help facilitate evacuation flights. top stories on Twitter

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