- Associated Press - Thursday, February 24, 2011

IRAKLIO, Crete (AP) — Two ferries carrying 4,500 Chinese workers from strife-torn Libya arrived at the Mediterranean island of Crete on Thursday, despite rough seas that left hundreds of Americans stranded on a docked ferry in Tripoli.

Passengers smiled and waved from the decks of the Greek-flagged Hellenic Spirit, which sailed from Libya’s eastern port of Benghazi, although some others needed medical attention.

Up to 15,000 Chinese are expected to arrive by ferry on Crete and fly home on chartered flights in one of China’s largest foreign evacuations in recent times. China has more than 30,000 citizens in Libya working on construction and oil projects.

As tens of thousands of foreigners sought to flee the turmoil in Libya, Britain pondered whether to send in its military to evacuate oil workers stranded in remote sites by fierce fighting in the North African nation.

Those who made it out of Libya described a frightening scene — with bodies hanging from electricity poles in Benghazi and militia trucks loaded up with the dead. In the capital of Tripoli, witnesses said the airport was a madhouse, crammed with desperate people who stampeded any open door.

Ewan Black talks to reporters at London's Gatwick Airport on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011, after arriving on a chartered evacuation flight from Tripoli, Libya. (AP Photo/Gareth Fuller/PA)
Ewan Black talks to reporters at London’s Gatwick Airport on Thursday, Feb. ... more >

“The airport is just a zoo. There’s about 10,000 people there, all trying to get out,” Ewan Black of Great Britain told the BBC as he got off a flight at London’s Gatwick Airport. “It’s just absolutely manic; basically, it’s uncontrolled.”

Americans who eagerly climbed aboard the Maria Dolores ferry at Tripoli’s As-shahab port on Wednesday faced a long delay in their travel plans. Strong winds have been whipping up high waves in the Mediterranean Sea, and the 600-passenger catamaran ferry was not likely to leave for Malta until Friday at the earliest, ferry officials said.

“Citizens are safe on board. It will leave when the weather permits,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a tweet. The voyage takes up to eight hours.

A spokesman for the American Embassy said provisions are aboard the ferry, one of two now in Libya, which can evacuate a total of 1,000 people.

In London, the British government was holding an emergency meeting to decide whether the military needs to evacuate almost 200 U.K. oil workers and their colleagues from other countries. Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC radio the panel would discuss evacuation options with Liam Fox, secretary of state for defense.

Mr. Hague said he did not rule out the use of British special forces to rescue the 170 British workers marooned in desert camps away from Libya’s major cities.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, in Oman on a tour of the Middle East, issued an apology to British nationals furious over the country’s supposedly sluggish efforts to evacuate its citizens from Tripoli.

Turkey managed to evacuate more than 7,000 of its 25,000 citizens in Libya, mostly by two ships that arrived Thursday in the southern Turkish port of Marmaris, and said it would evacuate more foreigners from Libya.

Witnesses said Benghazi, the eastern city now controlled by anti-government protesters, has seen fierce fighting, looting and killings.

Ali Tumkaya, the human resources manager for Turkey’s Sembol company, which was building a university in Benghazi, said militias raided the Benghazi airport. He saw vans with more than 20 dead bodies, who Mr. Tumkaya said were paid soldiers from sub-Saharan Africa.

Story Continues →