New Delhi/Mumbai, Feb 26 (IANS) India has begun evacuating its citizens early Saturday from violence-stricken Libya, sending two Air India planes to its capital Tripoli while three Indian Navy ships set sail for the north African country.
'Two planes, one from Mumbai and one from Delhi, left for Tripoli around 1:30 a.m., reached Tripoli by afternoon and passengers have begun boarding,' a senior Air India official told IANS.
The special flights, two in a day, will bring back Indians stranded in Libya. A revolt against the Muammar Gaddafi government has turned violent, so far claiming over 1,000 lives.
According to the Air India official, both planes were expected to bring back around 700 passengers.
'We have sent one Boeing 747 Jumbo and another Airbus A330 for the evacuation,' the official added.
Meanwhile, among the ships being sent - INS Jalashwa and INS Mysore are specially equipped for the mission with full medical facilities on board, including operation theatres, doctors and paramedical staff.
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 with 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 recue fleet is expected to reach Libya in ten days time, the official said.
It may be recalled that in July 2006, the Indian Navy had organised a similar mission to evacuate over 2500 Indians, PIOs and some foreign nationals from Lebanon following the war between Israel and the Lebanese resistance group, Hezbollah.
Describing the situation in Libya as 'very grave', External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna had Friday said India was closely watching the developments in the region hit by unrest and advocated democracy in the fast-changing scenario.
Denying that the government had been slow in responding to the situation, the minister had said that two Indian aircraft will be reaching Tripoli soon.
The minister had also denied allegations that the government was charging passengers for the evacuation and cautioned people against those trying to exploit the situation.
The government has also chartered a 1,200-seater passenger ferry, which is on its way to Benghazi.
There are at least 18,000 Indians in Libya, including an estimated 3,000 in Benghazi, where the airport has been rendered unusable due to the fighting.