Video: After delay, ferry with Americans reaches Malta

Gregorio Borgia  /  AP
A ferry carrying Americans and other foreigners arrives at the harbor in Valletta, Malta, Friday, Feb. 25, 2011. The Maria Dolores ferry left Tripoli's As-shahab port on an eight-hour trip to Valetta. Its passengers, at least 167 U.S. citizens and 118 other foreigners, have been aboard the catamaran since Wednesday in their quest to escape Libya's escalating turmoil, but rough seas prevented the ferry from leaving. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 2/25/2011 11:38:54 PM ET 2011-02-26T04:38:54

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 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 ship 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.

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"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 in a tweet the arrivals were "a very gratifying picture."

The State Department said 338 passengers were on board, including 183 American citizens. Of those, about 40 were embassy staff and dependents, one of whom was almost nine months pregnant.

Most of the passengers had been aboard the catamaran since Wednesday, but high seas prevented it from leaving.

Image: A British man is met by his two children as he arrives at Gatwick Airport in London on a flight from Tripoli, Libya
Peter Macdiarmid  /  Getty Images
A British man, who did not want to give his name, is met by his two children as he arrives at Gatwick Airport on a flight from Tripoli chartered by the British government Thursday.

NBC News reported that a U.S. government charter flight also departed Libya on Friday, with both American and foreign nationals on board. The flight carried 41 passengers, including the remaining 19 embassy staffers and 13 other Americans.

The department told NBC News that it believes all American citizens who have contacted it for help in leaving Libya have been evacuated. In total, the U.S. evacuated about 200 private American citizens but many others left via commercial means or through their employers accommodations.

The ferry passengers had been stuck aboard the catamaran since Wednesday, because strong winds and high seas had prevented the ferry from leaving Tripoli.

"It was pretty uncomfortable just because of the delay," said Lucile Usielmerazcerna, another evacuee from Santa Cruz, Calif. "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 flee
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.

A U.S.-chartered flight also left Tripoli on Friday. It arrived in Istanbul later that night with Americans — some working for the U.S. Embassy — and one British citizen on board.

Video: After delay, ferry with Americans reaches Malta (on this page)


Another charter, this one sent by Canada, left Tripoli on Friday with only its crew aboard after it could not find any Canadians citizens waiting at the airport.

China dispatched a navy ship to support the evacuation of its citizens. An estimated 30,000 Chinese live in Libya, working on dams, roads and other infrastructure projects. Most are now seeking to flee the country, where fighting between rebels and Libyan militiamen loyal to Gadhafi has killed hundreds. Chinese state media reported Friday that about 12,000 Chinese have been evacuated so far.

Still, bad weather forced thousands of Chinese to remain in Libya as their Greek ship stayed in port. About 6,000 were expected to head to the island of Crete on Saturday.

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China also evacuated more than 450 citizens by plane and bus Friday — nearly half of them employees of Sinohydro, a state-owned company involved in construction, engineering, investment and real estate.

Gong Xuefei, a Sinohydro employee based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, told the official Xinhua News Agency that the evacuees first took buses to the border with Egypt, then traveled to Cairo, then flew home.

"The whole journey lasted more than 30 hours. It was exhausting," he said.

India was sending two flights a day starting Saturday to evacuate some of the 18,000 Indians in Libya, as well as sending ships.

The Italian military ship San Giorgio left the Libyan coast Friday with about 245 people, half of them Italians, said the ship's captain Enrico Giurelli. Rough seas and strong winds had delayed the operation. The ship is expected to arrive in Sicily on Sunday.

Another few dozen Italians and other foreigners were evacuated aboard an Italian C-130 plane that arrived Friday at an air field near Rome, but two dozen Italians allegedly robbed in southern Libya still awaited evacuation, the ANSA news agency said. They are reportedly running out of food.

Italy was also in touch with Libyan authorities over 150 employees of an Italian company who were stranded at the border with Tunisia in a documents dispute.

"The situation in Libya is getting worse. We are not talking about chaos anymore, but really about a civil war," Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki said on TVN24.

Poland appealed to its 400 citizens in Libya to leave as quickly as possible, saying the window of opportunity was narrowing.

"We firmly advise that they return," Bosacki said. "If someone wants to leave they should do so as quickly as possible."

Video: Demonstrators out in force in Benghazi (on this page)

British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a similar call, adding his government was doing "everything it can" to get British nationals out.

The British naval ship HMS Cumberland sailed from the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi and reached Malta with 207 evacuees on Thursday. The trip usually takes at least 15 hours but took nearly 35 hours because of rough seas. Cameron said a second warship — HMS York — was being sent to waters close to Libya to help with rescue missions.

"People do need to leave now and that is the message that I give very strongly to British citizens in Libya," Cameron said. "For those in the desert, we will do everything we can and we are active on that right now to help get you out."

Video: Cornered in Tripoli? Gadhafi still defiant (on this page)

Britain, meanwhile, denied a report it had paid bribes to Libyan officials to help facilitate evacuation flights. A Foreign Office spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy, said "paying charges levied by the authorities at a foreign airport is not bribery."

Sam Dewhirst of Leeds, England, however, said he believed Britons' exit might have been eased.

"I think our people probably smoothed the way with a few bribes to get us in to get us preferential treatment," Dewhirst said in Malta.

Greece had to overcome serious hurdles to obtain landing clearance to evacuate 230 Greeks from Libya to Athens on Friday.

"It was total chaos on every level, and quite troubling for the people involved. But we got our people out," said Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis, who traveled to Libya to coordinate the effort. "It took us three days just to get clearance to land."

Turkey also faced severe problems in obtaining Libyan landing permits but four Turkish military cargo planes were able to bring more than 400 Turks home from Tripoli.

About 10,000 Turkish citizens have been evacuated so far, President Abdullah Gul said Friday. Turkey has up to 30,000 citizens working in Libya, most on construction projects.

The Associated Press, Reuters and NBC News contributed to this report.

Photos: Moammar Gadhafi

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  1. Col. Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Sept. 27, 1969, after leading a military coup that toppled King Idris. Gadhafi has maintained his rule over Libya for more than four decades since the coup. Gadhafi was killed in Sirte on Oct. 20 as revolutionary forces took the last bastion of his supporters. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gadhafi, left, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, right, arrive in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1969 for the Arab Summit Conference. (Benghabit / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Col. Gadhafi, left, jokes with a group of British hippies in Tripoli in July 1973. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gadhafi was purportedly a major financier of the Black September movement, a band of Palestinian militants. Its members perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One of the Black September guerrillas who broke into the Olympic Village is seen in this picture. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gadhafi during the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Aug. 4, 1975, in Kampala, Uganda. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Flowers are laid at the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, a British police constable who was shot dead by terrorists in April 1984 while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. Fletcher's death led to an 11-day police siege of the embassy and a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Libya and the United Kingdom. (Fox Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Gadhafi and his second wife Safiya wave to the crowd upon their arrival in Dakar, Senegal, for a three-day official visit on Dec. 3, 1985. Gadhafi has eight biological children, six by Safiya. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt, fourth from left, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, fifth from left, inspect the damage following an April 5, 1986, bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by American serveicemen. Libya was blamed for the blast, which killed three and injured more than 200. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. (Wolfgang Mrotzkowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. French policemen and army soldiers unload crates of arms and ammunition seized aboard the Panamian merchant ship Eksund on Nov. 3, 1987 at Brest military port in France. A huge supply of arms and explosives purportedly supplied by Libya and destined for the Irish Republican Army was found aboard the vessel. (Andre Durand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This Dec. 22, 1988, photo shows the wreckage of the Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people - most of them Americans. Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families. Libya's ex-justice minister was recently quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. (Letkey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, right, welcomes Gadhafi upon his arrival at Tunis airport on Jan. 10, 1990. (Frederic Neema / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is escorted by security officers in Tripoli on Feb. 18, 1992. Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. (Manoocher Deghati / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, accompanies Gadhafi on a tour at the pyramids of Giza on Jan. 19, 1993. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian border policeman counts passports belonging to Palestinians waiting at the post in Salloum for transit to the Gaza Strip on Sept. 12, 1995. Families were stranded at the border with Libya after Gadhafi decided to expel 30.000 Palestinians, reportedly in order to call attention to the political situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Amr Nabil / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Libyan women bodyguards provide security for VIPs during a military parade in Green Square on Sept. 1, 2003, to mark the 34th anniversary of Gadhafi's acension to power. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Family members of people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, read documents on Sept. 12, 2003, as the U.N. Security Council votes to lift sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, flew to Libya in 2004 to hold talks with Gadhafi inside a Bedouin tent. Here, Blair and and Gadhafi stroll to a separate tent in Tripoli for lunch during a break in their talks. Blair's role was particularly vital in Gadhafi's international rehabilitation. He praised the leader for ending Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program and stressed the need for new security alliances in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. (Stefan Rousseau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. U.S. President George W. Bush looks at material and equipment surrendered by Libya, during a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Bush officially lifted the U.S. trade embargo against Libya on Sept. 20, 2004. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. View of the remains of Gadhafi's bombed-out headquarters, now turned into a living memento, inside his compound in Tripoli on Oct. 15, 2004. The sculpture in the center represents a golden fist grabbing a U.S. jet fighter. U.S. jets bombed Tripoli, killing Gadhafi's adopted 4-year-old daughter, in April 1986 in retaliation for the Berlin discotheque bombing. (John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcomed by Gadhafi in Tripoli on July 25, 2007. Sarkozy arrived for a meeting with the Libyan leader a day after the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan prison. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Gadhafi's son Saif, center, attends a ceremony in the southern Libyan city of Ghiryan on Aug. 18, 2007, to mark the arrival of water from the Great Manmade River, a project to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gadhafi looks at a Russian-language edition of his book "The Green Book" during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 17, 2008, in Tripoli. Putin was in Libya for a two-day visit to rebuild Russian-Libyan relations. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Gadhafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pose for a picture after signing an agreement in the eastern city of Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast on Aug. 30, 2008. Berlusconi apologized to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a $5 billion investment deal by way of compensation. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gadhafi poses with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2008. Rice arrived in Libya on the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington's reconciliation with the former enemy state. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gadhafi attends the closing session of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, 2009. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Gadhafi waves after delivering a speech during a meeting with 700 women from the business, political and cultural spheres on June 12, 2009, in Rome. The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers when he criticized Islam's treatment of women but then suggested it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. U.S .President Barack Obama shakes hands with Gadhafi during the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, top left, is accompanied by Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, upon his arrival at the airport in Tripoli on Aug. 20, 2009. Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, allowing him to die at home in Libya despite American protests that he should be shown no mercy. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, top center, listens in apparent misery as Gadhafi speaks on Sept. 23, 2009, at U.N. headquarters in New York. It was Gadhafi's first appearance before the U.N., and he emptied out much of the chamber with an exhaustive 95-minute speech in which he criticized the decision-making structure of the world body and called for investigations of all the wars and assassinations that have taken place since the U.N.'s founding. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Gadhafi greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island on Sept. 27, 2009. Chavez and Gadhafi urged African and South American leaders to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a group picture of Arab and African leaders ahead of the opening of the second Arab-African summit in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 10, 2010. Ben Ali and Mubarak were driven out of power by popular revolts in 2011. (Sabri Elmehedwi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Gadhafi is followed by members of the press in Tripoli before making a speech hoping to defuse tensions on March 2. Gadhafi blamed al-Qaida for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyan rebels step on a picture of Gadhafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli's Qarqarsh district on Aug. 22. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up a scattered, last-ditch effort in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds hailing the end of Gadhafi's 42 years in power. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man in Tripoli holds a photo said to be of Moammar Gadhafi after the announcement of the former leader's death, Oct. 20, 2011. Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell. (Abdel Magid Al-fergany / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years
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Timeline: Recent Middle East unrest

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