New Delhi: Over 500 Indian nationals were brought to the capital from strife-torn Libya in two flights specially arranged by Air India, after an anti-government uprising put their lives at risk, officials said on Sunday.
The first flight, a Boeing 747, carrying 291 Indian nationals, arrived here around Saturday midnight.
The second batch of 237 evacuated passengers, who were picked from Libyan capital Tripoli, arrived in an Airbus A330 at 4.10 am on Sunday.
Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao were present at the airport to receive the evacuated Indian nationals.
Another two Air India flights are to leave for Tripoli later in the day to evacuate over 500 more Indians.
“The trouble was mainly outside Tripoli. We were not involved in the trouble but feared it could affect us in Tripoli in the near future,” said one of the passengers on arriving in Delhi.
“We are concerned over people staying in isolated camps, provided by private companies,” he said.
A senior Air India official said: “The first plane, a Boeing 747, carrying 291 passengers from (Libyan capital) Tripoli landed here by 11.55 pm. It took off at 4.30 pm from there.”
The plane was brought to Terminal 2, the erstwhile international terminal of the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) which is currently used for special purposes like processing of Haj passengers. It has been specially leased from Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL), which operates the airport.
Ahamed announced that all arrangements had been made for the returning Indians to their native places at the government’s cost.
“The ministry has made all arrangements for passengers…. You need not spend a single paisa,” he said.
Rao told reporters she visited the airport to receive “our citizens” who were returning from the North African country on the specially arranged Air India flight. Overseas Indian Affairs Secretary A Didar Singh was also present, besides several other officials.
Officials said special arrangements had been made for the returning Indians. Food had been arranged for them, as well as telephone facilities so they could contact their families.
Counters had been set up to arrange rail and air tickets for them while officials from at least 12 states’ resident commissioner’s offices were present for any further help they may need.
Meanwhile, three Indian Navy ships have also sailed to Libya to help in the evacuation of the 18,000 Indians in the country, while the External Affairs Ministry said another passenger ship, presently in the Mediterranean Sea, is being chartered for evacuation and expected to reach Libya’s Benghazi on Monday.
The special flights, two in a day, have brought back Indians stranded in Libya, where a revolt against the Muammar Gaddafi government has turned violent and claimed over 1,000 lives so far.
Additional personnel are in position at the Indian embassy in Tripoli to enhance the manpower strength of the mission, a release by the External Affairs Ministry said on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Indian Navy’s INS Jalashwa and INS Mysore – specially equipped for the mission with full medical facilities on board, including operation theatres, doctors and paramedical staff – set sail from Mumbai.
The main rescue vessel, INS Jalashwa is a Landing Platform Dock-type amphibious platform particularly designed for sea lift mission and also capable of undertaking humanitarian missions, while INS Mysore is a Delhi Class destroyer.
The ships are also carrying helicopters and a contingent of marine Special Forces personnel.
Another ship, INS Aditya is also accompanying the two rescue ships to provide them the necessary logistics support.
The ships will evacuate Indian nationals from Libya to either Malta or Egypt, from where they will be transferred by air to India.
The rescue fleet is expected to reach Libya in 10 days’ time, the official said.