Greece’s attempt to evacuate some 300 of its citizens from troubled Libya was almost thrown into disarray on Tuesday when a squabble broke out between government departments about who was in charge of the operation.
Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis prompted anger at the Foreign Ministry when he stated publicly that he was coordinating the evacuation with the police and the coast guard. He added that two Greek ships were already on their way to Libya and that more would follow, as Greece would help evacuate other Europeans and some 15,000 Chinese.
Sources said the Foreign Ministry was surprised by the statement as it had been negotiating the safe return of Greeks for the past few days and had kept secret the fact that Greek ships would be bringing back foreign nationals because it did not want to jeopordise the security of the operation.
It later confirmed that Greece had agreed to help Chinese nationals leave Libya.
«The Chinese government has chartered three Greek ships that will go to Libya to repatriate 13,000-15,000 Chinese, as well as the Greeks in Benghazi,» Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said.
The matter was complicated further by Maritime Affairs Minister Yiannis Diamantidis also issuing a statement saying that he had ordered four Greek ships to Libya to help with the evacuation and by Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos complaining to colleagues that the Greek Navy was not asked to take part in the process.
A Greek-owned tanker docked in a Libyan port on Tuesday in the hope of picking up Greeks that live and work in the country and who are trying to flee amid increasingly bloody clashes between pro-democracy protestors and security forces.
The Minerva Antonia, owned by the Minerva shipping company, docked at the northern Libyan port of Ra’s Lanuf in the Gulf of Sirte.
Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis said that Greece is also trying to gain permission for four C-130 military cargo planes to land at various airports in Libya to fly Greeks home.
He also said that Greece faced a major logistics challenge in trying to get Greeks in Libya to a port or airport as many of them work at building sites in remote areas that are up to 200 kilometers from the nearest point of exit.