ANKARA, Turkey – Rough seas stranded thousands of Chinese workers hoping to be evacuated Friday from the chaos in Libya, but the ordeal of hundreds of Americans and other foreigners stuck on a ferry for three days ended as their ship finally left a Libyan port.
The Maria Dolores, carrying 167 U.S. citizens and 118 other foreigners, left Tripoli's As-shahab port Friday for Valetta, Malta. Its passengers have been aboard the catamaran since Wednesday but high seas prevented it from leaving. The voyage to Malta was expected to take some eight hours, said Hanri Salia, managing director of Virtu Ferries which leased the ferry to the U.S. government.
Tens of thousands of foreigners are trying to flee Libya, with Turks and Chinese climbing aboard ships by the thousands. Europeans are mostly boarding evacuation flights while North Africans race to border crossings in overcrowded vans.
European countries scrambled to send more ships and military planes to the North African nation and Britain mulled whether to send in its military to rescue stranded oil workers.
China dispatched a navy ship to support the evacuation of its citizens. The mission underscores the complexities facing China in protecting hundreds of thousands of its citizens in developing countries as the world's No. 2 economy promotes private business or work on dams, roads and other infrastructure projects in the Third World.
An estimated 30,000 Chinese live in Libya, the majority of whom are now seeking to flee the country where fighting between rebels and foreign mercenaries and Libyan militiamen loyal to Moammar Gadhafi has killed hundreds.
The bad weather forced Greece to suspend the evacuation of thousands of Chinese to the island of Crete on Friday. But about 6,000 Chinese nationals were expected at Cretan ports Saturday, according to local officials and tourism organizers. Up to 15,000 Chinese — about half the number of Chinese working in Libya on construction and oil projects — are expected to arrive by ferry in Crete and fly home on chartered flights.
Two Italian military ships are off the Libyan coasts, near Misrata, but rough seas are preventing the evacuation of some 150 Italian workers. Two Turkish ships on their way to Libya were also waiting for calmer seas, one near the island of Crete.
"The situation in Libya is getting worse. We are not talking about chaos anymore, but really about a civil war," Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki said on TVN24. "Most of the country is in the hands of rebels and they lack centralized power. That's why it's so dangerous. Gangs are on the prowl in many places."
Poland appealed to around 400 of its citizens in Libya to leave as quickly as possible, saying the window of opportunity is narrowing. However, just over 100 of them were contemplating leaving. They are mostly Polish women married to Libyans.
"We firmly advise that they return," Bosacki said. "Getting to the airport is getting always harder, so if someone wants to leave they should do so as quickly as possible."