A chartered ferry carrying mostly U.S. citizens and embassy staff from Libya arrived at the island of Malta today, where many were being rushed into treatment for dehydration and seasickness.
The ship had been delayed leaving Tripoli for two days by weather before making the crossing in nine hours in rough seas. There were 338 passengers on board, including 183 Americans, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters at a briefing in Washington.
A U.S.-chartered airplane carrying 41 passengers, including 32 Americans, also left Libya today for Istanbul, Crowley said. The State Department has suspended operations at its embassy in Tripoli, he said.
The violence in Libya “got bad pretty fast,” David Peterson, a Cisco Systems Inc. employee from Newport Beach, California, said in Malta after arriving on the ferry. “We heard regular gunfire, especially at night.”
Peterson said the crossing was “nine hours of pretty rough seas. Many were sick, but we are finally safe and sound.”
Paramedics went aboard the ship after its arrival and ambulances were seen taking passengers away. Others were being helped by U.S. embassy staff from the island nation.
Fellow passenger Richard Wilmond, an engineer from the U.K., said “Things got pretty crazy down there. Was eager to get out. Don’t know how it’s going to end. You can feel the tension in the air.”
Hisham Esaadi, a Libyan-American from Dallas who works for Oracle Corp., said he heard heavy gunfire in Tripoli before he escaped to the ferry.
“The evacuation to Malta was quite an ordeal, two days on the ship before we left,” Esaadi said. “Then the trip today was quite rough and children were scared.”
Police in Malta closed the main highway to other traffic to speed the flow of emergency vehicles.
The ferry had been scheduled to leave Libya on Wednesday. U.S. officials delayed the voyage because of waves as high as 18 feet that raised safety concerns, said Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy at the State Department.
The State Department opted for a ferry evacuation earlier this week because the Tripoli airport “was becoming sufficiently chaotic,” Kennedy said.
Crowley said the U.S. is still considering “a range of options” to respond to the Qaddafi regime, including the use of military force.
“The military is a full participant in the policy process that is going on,” he said. “We have not ruled out any option.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to fly to Geneva on Feb. 27 to consult with foreign ministers at the United Nations Human Rights Council about Libya. The council today recommended suspending Libya and investigating alleged human-rights violations. The UN General Assembly might vote on that matter next week in New York.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Fireman at email@example.com