Update at 18:00
Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, said:
“I can confirm that two RAF C130 Hercules aircraft have evacuated more than 150 civilians from desert locations south of Benghazi. The first aircraft has landed in Malta and the second will arrive shortly. HMS Cumberland is on her way back to Benghazi to evacuate any remaining entitled persons from there. HMS York has arrived in Valletta to take onboard stores in order that she can assist with the evacuation effort as required. A number of other military assets remain available to support the FCO-led efforts to return civilians from Libya.”
The planes will be met by a team of consular officials and Red Cross staff in Valletta. Once disembarked, the passengers will be given food and water and offered full consular assistance at the airport. This includes immigration processing and a medical. They will then be bussed to hotels, where they will stay overnight. They will return to the UK tomorrow or Monday on a FCO-chartered plane.
The last FCO charter flight has just departed Tripoli. It is expected to arrive at Gatwick airport at around 2200GMT, carrying approximately 100 passengers. 53 of these are British nationals.
In light of the deteriorating situation in Libya, and as our last FCO charter flight has now left Tripoli, we have temporarily suspended the operations of the British Embassy in Tripoli. Its staff left today - some of them, with our Rapid Deployment Team from Tripoli airport, on that charter flight. Temporary consular arrangements are being put in place. The Turkish Government will now temporarily represent British interests in Libya. The British Pro Consul will remain in Tripoli and will work closely with the Turkish Embassy.
A number of other countries have already suspended the operation of their Missions in Tripoli, including the United States and Australia.
HMS Cumberland will return to Benghazi on Sunday. We continue to urge any remaining British citizens in Libya who have not done so already to provide the Foreign Office with their names, location and contact details immediately. They can do so by calling the Foreign Office’s Emergency Hotline on +44(0)20 7008 0000 or 021 340 3644/45 from within Libya. Alternatively they can contact us on the “Libyacharterflight” Skype account.
Humanitarian specialists from the British Government are now on the ground in Egypt and are making their way to the Libyan border. The team are assessing how Britain and the international community can best assist the region as the situation develops. We are monitoring the movement of refugees from Libya to Tunisia and Egypt.
In particular, we are actively assessing the need for supplies from HMG’s humanitarian stockpile based in Dubai.
Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and his officials are in close contact with a range of international humanitarian agencies to discuss their assessment of the situation.
Update at 12:30
The security and wellbeing of British nationals is our absolute priority. We are doing all we can to get them out of Libya, drawing on both military and commercial assets, as well as working with international partners. Our priority is ensuring British nationals can leave Libya as quickly and as safely and as soon as possible.
As of today (26/02) we have helped around 600 British Nationals to depart Libya: approximately 450 directly (by putting on planes, HMS Cumberland or ferries) and 150 by advising and facilitating their departure.
- We have also assisted nationals from around 25 other countries to leave.
- The FCO in London has taken more than 1100 calls in the last 24 hrs from BNs wanting to leave Libya, and their family and colleagues in the UK.
- The FCO has sent over 25 specialist staff to reinforce teams in Malta and Libya.
- A Boeing 737 charter flight with 148 seat capacity is due to arrive in Tripoli imminently and will return to London later today. It is likely to be the last flight organised by the British Government. We recommend that anyone wishing to depart on the UK charter flight travels to the airport as early as possible, in daylight hours.
- A US chartered ferry arrived in Valletta from Tripoli at 20.30 on Friday evening carrying 40 British nationals.
The security situation at the airport has been deteriorating in recent hours and the route to the airport is becoming more precarious. We continue to monitor the situation closely.
HMS Cumberland docked in Valletta at 0230 Saturday morning. It carried 207 passengers including 68 British Nationals. The British Nationals have received full consular assistance, and will all be returning to the UK either today or tomorrow on flights paid for by the FCO. She departed Valletta at 1015 this morning to return to Benghazi and collect any other BNs who are still in or near the city.
HMS York has arrived in the area and stands ready to assist as required.
We are still deeply concerned about those in Benghazi and in the desert and are urgently continuing to explore all possible options available to us.
FCO support to British nationals:
Numerous Foreign Office staff continue to work day and night to provide the best possible assistance to British Nationals in Libya. We have increased the number of FCO staff working in the call handling centre and engaged a commercial call handling service to further increase capacity.
We currently have one Rapid Deployment Team providing 24 hour support and consular assistance at Tripoli airport. Another RDT - including two Red Cross staff - is travelling on HMS Cumberland assisting passengers on their journey to Malta. A third team from the Embassy in Cairo has gone to the Egypt / Libya border. We will send more if needed. We also have a team in Malta to meet Britons arriving there either by plane or boat.