Libya evacuees set to reach Piraeus on Saturday

A Greek frigate carrying 186 people evacuated from conflict-ridden Libya is expected to reach the port of Piraeus early Saturday, the Greek Defense Ministry said.

The evacuation operation took place as Athens said it would “temporarily suspend” the operation of its embassy in the North African country “due to the adverse security conditions prevailing in the region.” Fighting between rival militias in Libya has escalated over the past two weeks, prompting many western governments to pull their diplomats out of the country.

Early Friday, the Hellenic Navy’s frigate Salamis, which had sailed from the Salamina naval base, safely evacuated 77 Greeks, including embassy staff, 78 Chinese, 12 Cypriots, 10 Britons, seven Belgians, as well as one Russian and one Albanian. Two smaller vessels also took part in the operation, dubbed “Agenor.”

For security, as well as symbolic, reasons it was decided that the Greek frigate would not enter the port of capital Tripoli. Evacuees were first transported to the port in groups of 20-25 people. They were then ferried to the Salamis aboard two Libyan tugboats, which were escorted by members of the Hellenic Navy’s commando (DYK) unit.

In a statement Friday, Greek Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos congratulated the navy officers who took part in the operation.

“The completion of the operation shows people what the armed forces can do and confirms our country’s active role in the broader region,” he said.

France, Britain and the US have all strongly advised their citizens to evacuate Libya. Forty-seven French and British nationals evacuated on a French naval ship from Libya arrived Friday in France’s southern port of Toulon.

During seperate fighting in Libya in 2011, Greece had again assisted China and other countries evacuate their nationals from the North African country, launching many of its operations from the Mediterranean island of Crete.