Ferry with Americans aboard finally reaches Malta
Friday, February 25, 2011; 11:29 PM
VALLETTA, Malta -- After three days of delays, a U.S.-chartered ferry carrying Americans and other foreigners out of the chaos of Libya has finally arrived at the Mediterranean island of Malta.
The Maria Dolores ferry evacuated over 300 passengers Friday, including at least 167 U.S. citizens, away from the turmoil that has engulfed the North African nation as residents rise up over Moammar Gadhafi's iron-fisted rule.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that some 22,000 people have fled across the Libyan border to Tunisia and a reported 15,000 to Egypt.
He said the U.N. refugee agency fears "that much larger numbers of residents and migrant workers are in fact trapped and unable to leave for safety."
"There are widespread reports of refugees being harassed and threatened with guns and knives," Ban said, adding that many people who managed to cross the border told officials their trip was "terrifying."
Minutes after the Maria Dolores docked in Malta's Valletta harbor, a few people on wheelchairs were escorted out. Women holding babies then walked down a ramp, while others held the hands of children as they stepped off the ship after 8-hour voyage across the choppy Mediterranean Sea.
"Oh, it was a long ordeal. We are glad it's over," said evacuee Sara Ali, a 30-year-old with dual Libyan-American citizenship who lives in Libya. "We're just really tired and really happy to be out and safe."
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Twitter that the arrivals were "a very gratifying picture."
The passengers have been stuck aboard the catamaran since Wednesday in their quest to escape Libya's escalating unrest, but strong winds and high seas had prevented the ferry from leaving the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
"It was pretty uncomfortable just because of the delay," said Lucile Usielmerazcerna, another evacuee from Santa Cruz, California. "It was really rough waters coming over here, also having to stay in the dock for 2 or 3 days."
"Right now I'm just feeling kind of good that we are here," she added.
Tens of thousands of foreigners have been fleeing Libya this week. Turkish and Chinese workers climbed aboard ships by the thousands, Europeans mostly boarded evacuation flights and North Africans have been heading to Libya's borders with Egypt and Tunisia in overcrowded vans.