3 Navy ships to set sail for Libya to evacuate Indians

NEW DELHI: Having woken up belatedly to what it called “sharp and unprecedented deterioration” in the situation in Libya, the government on Thursday was scrambling to launch evacuation operations for the around 18,000 Indians stuck in the violence-hit country.Three naval warships — large amphibious warfare ship INS Jalashwa and two Delhi-class destroyers — will now head for Libya to supplement the evacuation operation.Though it will take around 10 days for them to sail the 4,000 nautical miles to Libya, the three warships are needed to ferry around 9,500 Indians from Libyan ports like Tripoli and Benghazi to Malta and Alexandria ( Egypt), from where they can be airlifted to India.A passenger ferry ‘Scotia Prince’, hired by the government to evacuate Indians, is expected to reach Libya only by Sunday. As of now, evacuation is being arranged by air and sea but New Delhi is still awaiting clearance from Libyan authorities to initiate operations in both the cases. The ministry of external affairs on Thursday said Scotia Prince, which has a seating capacity of 1,200, will sail to Benghazi which will be the initial focus of rescue operations. MEA personnel and medical teams will be on board to assist the evacuees.“Scotia Prince is expected to reach Benghazi by February 27 and bring at least 1,200 persons to Alexandria (Egypt) by March 1. They would be flown home from Alexandria thereafter by special Air India flights, which are being arranged,” the ministry said. While in Tripoli the focus will be on air evacuation, aircraft are still on standby as landing clearance has not yet been received. “Preparations are also on for evacuation of our nationals from cities in the interior where air access is possible subject to Libyan clearance,” it said.While China managed to evacuate close to 3,000 people by road on Wednesday, government officials said New Delhi was not focusing on the land route because it was not safe as local militias had check-points all over the place. The move to get the three warships ready for sailing to Libya came after the MEA sought the defence ministry’s cooperation on Wednesday evening. By the time the warships reach Libya, it is hoped the MEA would have set in place a mechanism to get Indians to the ports in Tripoli and Benghazi for the to-and-fro ferry runs planned for them.While the 6,900-tonne destroyers can ferry only around 300 people each at one go since they are packed with weapon and sensor systems – TOI