Greece on Tuesday was on standby to evacuate Greek citizens from strife-torn Libya.
Deputy foreign minister Dimitris Dollis said that the priority right now was to receive permission for overflights and landings in order to pick up the Greeks in Libya wishing to leave for Greece.
Speaking on private television stations on Tuesday morning, Dollis, who holds the Greeks Abroad portfolio, said that the procedures for the flight permission have been set im motion by the defence ministry, while the planning was being made by the foreign ministry under his own supervision and that of ministry secretary general Ambassador Yannis-Alexis Zepos.
Dollis put the number of Greeks in Libya at approximately 300, noting that the operation was made difficult by the fact that most of the Greeks were working in remote construction sites in the desert.
"We are making every effort to contact as many people as possible, as well as the companies," Dollis said.
He added that Greece was also in contact with other countries preparing evacuation operations in order to coordinate forces and provide mutual assistance in the evacuations.
Merchant ship in Libya to pick up Greek evacuees
The merchant ship "Minerva Antonia" owned by the shipping firm "Minerva" sailed into the Libyan port of Ras Lanuf near the city of Surt on Tuesday in order to pick up Greek citizens being evacuated from the area.
This was the first step in an evacuation operation being organised by the Greek foreign ministry, which contacted the shipping company seeking ways to get stranded Greeks out of the strife-torn country after encountering problems in its efforts to send two military transport planes that are now on standby to the country's four airports.
The foreign ministry estimates that there are approximately 30 Greeks in the area of Ras Lanuf, which Greek authorities will try to contact in order to inform them about the ship's arrival so that they can be included in the list of passengers, if they wish.
Because locating and contacting individuals in the area was exceptionally difficult, the ministry asked in an announcement that Greeks wishing to be evacuated contact the Greek embassy in Libya at the telephone numbers (0021) 821 336978, (0021) 821 338563 or alternatively the Crisis Management Unit at the Greek foreign ministry at the phone number (0030) 210 3681730.
Greek authorities had earlier announced that two C-130 military transport planes were on standby at the Elefsina military airport, ready to take off for Libya as soon as the order arrived. They also stressed the difficulties caused by the intensely unstable situation in Libya, however, noting that they were having trouble organising permission to fly over the country and land the planes.
Another problem highlighted by the ministry was the fact that the Greeks in Libya are widely scattered and many of them located far from major urban centres, noting that some individuals were up to 350 kilometres away from the nearest of the country's four airports.
An estimated 300 Greeks are thought to be in Libya at the moment, many of them employees of companies active in the country and currently at locations deep inside the desert.
Coordinating the evacuation operation is Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis who explained that the problems were manifold and that the Greek government was currently having problems finding anyone in charge to talk to.
In an e-mail sent to the ANA-MPA on Tuesday, meanwhile, 40 employees of the construction firm J&P sent a "desperate appeal" for action to get them out of the town of Faregh in Libya and allow them to go home. Those signing the letter included eleven Cypriots and eight Greeks but also six Britons, six Romanians, a German, a Croat and seven Serbs.
Two passenger ships sail from Patra, heading to Libyan port
Two passenger ships sailed from the port of Patra, Western Greece, on Tuesday evening heading for a port in Libya to receive trapped European citizens.
According to reports, the ships will take them either to a port in Crete or to a port in Malta and from there they will leave for their countries by air. According to the same reports, the two ships are expected to make repeated trips to carry as many citizens as possible.
Planes on standby to return Greeks from Libya
Two C-130 military transport planes were on standby at the Elefsina military airport on Tuesday, ready to take off for Libya as soon as the order arrived to evacuate Greeks that were in that country. Greek authorities said efforts were underway to overcome difficulties caused by the intensely unstable situation in Libya, where local authorities had lost control.
Foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said that Greece's embassy in Libya was in touch with representatives of Greek communities in Benghazi and Tripoli and companies active in Libya. He said that the number of Greeks in the country was estimated at around 300.
The Greek foreign ministry, with Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis in a coordinating role, was trying to solve two problems on Tuesday. One was that of obtaining permission to fly over Libya and land a plane and its crew, while the other was organising ways to collect Greek employees working for companies in Libya that were scattered throughout the desert in areas far from major urban centres.
In radio and television interviews on Tuesday, Dollis explained that one concern was security but another was the fact that the Greeks in the country that needed to be evacuated were located anything up to 350 kilometres away from each of the country's four airports.
"The greatest difficulty we have to face are the distances. We must find a way to get there and to bring them to the airports, this is what we are trying to do," he said. Another problem pointed out by the minister was the lack of any authority to talk to in Libya, noting that all discussion so far had been held with those in charge of Tripoli airport.
According to the latest information reaching the ministry, none of the Greeks in the country have so far come to any harm.
In an e-mail sent to the ANA-MPA, meanwhile, eleven Cypriots and eight Greeks working the construction firm J&P in Libya have asked to be evacuated and brought home. Their letter is also signed by six Britons, six Romanians, a German, a Croat and seven Serb employees of the company who said they were "desperately asking" that the necessary action be taken for them to leave the town of Faregh in Libya where they are located and go home.
Chinese nationals to be evacuated from Libya via Crete
Roughly 13,000 Chinese working in Libya will return to their country via Crete, following a request by the Chinese government to Greece and Italy for the evacuation of nearly 40,000 Chinese nationals, workers and business people, stranded in the strife-torn North African country.
According to reports, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has contacted the regional governor of Crete and requested the best possible accommodations and support services for the Chinese nationals.
The evacuees are expected to arrive on the large southern Aegean island on Thursday and will be staying in local hotels until they are flown back to China aboard chartered planes that will take off from the airports of Irakleio and Hania.