U.S. to evacuate Americans from Libya by ferry

Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound are seen burning in Benghazi, Libya on Monday, Feb. 21, 2011. AP Photo

WASHINGTON - The State Department said late Tuesday it has chartered a ferry boat to evacuate Americans from Libya by sea amid increasingly violent unrest in the North African state as Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi vowed further crackdowns on opponents seeking his ouster.

In a notice sent to U.S. citizens in Libya, the department said Americans wishing to leave Libya should report to the As-shahab port in the capital of Tripoli with their passports starting at 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday. The ferry will depart for the Mediterranean island of Malta no later than 3 p.m. local time.

It said boarding the vessel would be on a first-come, first-served basis, with priority given to those with medical emergencies or severe medical conditions. Travelers will be allowed one suitcase and one small carry-on item, the notice said, adding that pets would be allowed on the ferry but that they must meet European Union requirements.

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Those who want be evacuated should be prepared to wait several hours and bring food, water and other necessities to the pier, which is on the sea road across from the Radisson Blu Mahari Hotel in Tripoli.

Those who take the ferry will be expected to reimburse the government for the cost, estimated to be equivalent to the one-way commercial ferry crossing of the distance from Tripoli to the Maltese capital of Valletta, it said. Any onward travel from Malta must be paid for by the passengers, the notice said.

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Immediate family members of U.S. citizens who are not themselves citizens will be able to board provided they have travel documents valid for their final destination.

The evacuation comes amid deteriorating security conditions throughout Libya, with Gadhafi vowing to defeat opponents that now control cities in the eastern part of the country.

Unsuccessful attempts were made Monday and Tuesday to evacuate by airplane 35 non-essential American diplomats and family members of U.S. Embassy personnel, prompting heightened fears for their safety.

The State Department believes there are about 600 U.S. citizens along with several thousand dual U.S.-Libyan nationals currently in Libya.

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