IAF aircraft to join evacuation operations from Libya
NEW DELHI: As Libya swiftly descended into civil war, India decided to use an Il-76 transport aircraft of the IAF to ferry stranded citizens. From Thursday, the "Gajraj" aircraft will ferry people between Sirde in Libya and Cairo.
A wide-bodied aircraft has also been requisitioned by Air India to ferry people out of Sebha, sources said.
Sirde and Sebha are two towns with 2,000-strong concentrations of Indians each.
Officials acknowledged that India had been slow to start evacuation, but was currently taking out about 1,000 people every day and promised to complete the process by next week.
Even as China seemed on the verge of completing evacuation operations in Libya, having already pulled out over 32,000 of its nationals from the country, India only had a little over 6,000 evacuees to show for its efforts till Wednesday evening. The Chinese figure of 32,000 evacuees, mostly being doled out by official news agencies, however, seemed to have stirred a debate with foreign secretary Nirupama Rao herself saying that there was "no clarity'' over the number of Chinese evacuees.
Close to 12,000 Indians though are still stranded in the country, many of them in the interiors who are finding it increasingly difficult to reach Tripoli from where evacuation flights are operating.
A ship, MV Scotia Prince, carrying 1,188 Indians docked in Alexandria on Wednesday night. After their papers are processed, they will travel back to India on EgyptAir flights. The ship will turn around to go back to Benghazi, reaching on March 5 to pick up another 1,100 Indians.
A second ship may be put into service in a more sensitive part of Libya where some Indians are stuck.
Officials said Indian companies were actually sending their managers back into Libya to help bring back their employees. This is very different from companies from other countries who are leaving their Asian employees behind.
Three flights -- two Boeing 747s and one Airbus-330 -- brought back 1,045 Indians from Tripoli early Wednesday. Another three flights have left for Tripoli and are expected to ferry back 1,002 people. Three daily flights to Tripoli will continue over the coming days and these may be stepped up, said the foreign ministry.
Separately, a chartered flight carrying 78 Indians from Sirde (Libya) reached Larnaca ( Cyprus) on Tuesday evening. These people will be booked on commercial flights to India.
So far 126 Indians have left Libya in small numbers on their own, in coordination with Indian missions in and around Libya, the MEA said. As many as 267 Indians have, by now, crossed over to Salloum ( Egypt) by the land route and the Indian embassy in Cairo has already facilitated the return of some 180 of them in batches, to Mumbai by regular Gulf Air flights, it said.
Also, close to 1,400 people persons have reached Djerba in Algeria, where the Indian embassy staff from Tunis have put them up in hotels.