With Indians continuing to flee violence-hit Libya, India Tuesday said it has made arrangements for three daily special flights from Tripoli and is firming up other arrangements to bring home its nationals living in the north African country. “Arrangements have since been finalized with Libya to receive three special flights daily from India at Tripoli over the next ten days,” the external affairs ministry said on Tuesday.
“In addition, we are exploring possibilities of establishing air bridges with Sirte and Sebha in Libya. This should appreciably speed up the process of evacuating our nationals from Libya,” the ministry said.
Giving an update on Operation Safe Homecoming, a multi-pronged operation by air, sea and land the Indian government has launched to evacuate most of its 18,000 Indians stranded in Libya, the ministry said many nationals have started boarding the passenger ship Scotia Prince, which docked in Monday evening at Benghazi. “The ship is setting sail for Alexandria around noon (local time), with an estimated 1,188 Indian nationals on board,” he said.
Another 21 Indian nationals crossed over to Salloum (Egypt) Monday by road and have been moved to Cairo. They will leave Tuesday for Mumbai by Gulf Air, along with 85 more Indian nationals who had reached Cairo Monday morning.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is ready to evacuate, if called to do so, Indians stranded in Libya, Defence Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony also said Tuesday. “The navy has sent its warships. The air force is also ready (with its aircraft). Whether it is (for) Libya or other countries, if the government wants their services, they can also be sent,” Antony told reporters on the sidelines of a defense function in New Delhi, responding to a question whether the defense ministry was considering deploying IAF aircraft for evacuating Indians stranded in Libya.
The IAF’s heavy-lift IL-76 transport aircraft, which can carry about 200 passengers in a double-decker seating mode, are on standby, an officer said.
Around 600 Indians from Libya arrived here early Tuesday, taking the total number of people evacuated by the four Air India special flights to around 1,200. Both the special Air India flights from Tripoli – Airbus A-330 and Boeing 747 – arrived at Terminal 2 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, an official said.
The Airbus A-330 had 266 passengers, while the Boeing 747 had 331 passengers.
External Affairs Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna Tuesday said over 3,500 people would have returned home by Wednesday. “The evacuation of Indians who are wanting to come back is going (on) smoothly. And so far by tomorrow, I think 3,500 persons would have been evacuated from Tripoli,” Krishna told reporters outside parliament.
He added the government was using commercial flights, chartered flights and shipping lines to evacuate stranded Indians. “And we hope that we should be able to pursue this evacuation,” Krishna said.
The navy Saturday sent three ships, including the troop carrier INS Jalashwa and the destroyer INS Mysore for the evacuation. The ships are expected to reach Benghazi in Libya early next week. They will transport stranded Indians to Alexandria in Egypt, from where they will be flown home on Air India aircraft.
India has also sought permission for Air India flights to land in interior Libya to evacuate about 1,000 Indians. “Eventually, we should be pressed to evacuate (all the Indians stranded in Libya). The numbers we can carry (on our warships) is substantial. On Jalashwa, we can carry 1,500 at one go and so I see there would be enough work to be done,” said Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, at another event at another event.
The evacuation is the biggest mounted by this country after the August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that forced thousands of Indians in the country to flee to Jordan capital Amman, from where they were flown home on Air India aircraft.