A ship carrying about 200 British and European Union citizens fleeing conditions in Libya arrived in Malta on Wednesday while another ship from the Philippines was on its way to evacuate the cities of Misrata and Benghazi of hundreds of Filipino workers. Meanwhile, the options for leaving the country by sea and air are becoming increasingly limited, though exit by land into neighboring Tunisia in the west remains open.
About 630 miles east of Tripoli in Benghazi, militants said Wednesday that they had overrun three local military bases and seized tanks and artillery, according to The Associated Press. Islamist militants of Ansar al-Shariah, the group accused of storming the U.S. embassy in Benghazi in 2012 and killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, has been entrenched in the city for months. Militants cornered Libyan army loyalists under Gen. Khalifa Hifter at Benina airport just outside of Benghazi.
Following the U.S. decision to shut its embassy late last month, Britain earlier this month began shutting down diplomatic operations. Other countries, including Spain and Malaysia, have also closed their missions. Italy and Poland have kept their embassies open and are assisting in evacuations.
“British nationals in Libya are strongly urged to leave immediately by commercial means,” the British Foreign Office said in its latest Libya travel advisory. The office said Virtu Ferries, which typically shuttles passengers between Malta and Sicily, would pick up passengers from the capital Tripoli on Tuesday for all foreign nationals. The U.K. also said there are a “limited number of flights” to Cairo from Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli, and Misrata, 132 miles east of the capital.
“The Chinese have been leaving Libya by the hundreds over the past two weeks because of the violence, and now the Filipinos and Pakistanis are following suit,” reported the Libya Herald on Wednesday. The paper reported that a Libyan tanker arrived on Wednesday in Tripoli with a shipment of much needed gasoline for local residents. Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Tuesday his country has deployed a ship to pick up about 700 Filipino nationals working in Misrata and Benghazi. The ship is due to arrive by the end of the week to take people to Malta.
"We are counting on getting as many people as possible," Del Rosario told Agence France-Presse. Evacuees will be taken to Malta to arrange for returns to their home countries. There are an estimated 11,000 Filipinos in Libya, but many of them say they intend to remain in the country out of fear of joblessness back home. The Philippine government, which strictly controls where its nationals are allowed to travel for work, banned deployment to Libya on May 30 (pdf).