Royal Navy goes in to Tripoli to help fleeing refugees

VOW Defence secretary Liam Fox at RAF Odiham yesterday
VOW Defence secretary Liam Fox at RAF Odiham yesterday

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HMS Liverpool is close to the action as rebel forces make a final push to topple the Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi.

The Portsmouth-based destroyer moved in 12 miles from the shore of the Libyan capital Tripoli to aid fleeing refugees after anti-Gaddafi troops stormed the city.

CROWDS People in Tripoli celebrate the capture of Muammar Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam yesterday, and inset HMS Liverpool

CROWDS People in Tripoli celebrate the capture of Muammar Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam yesterday, and inset HMS Liverpool

It comes as prime minister David Cameron called on the despot to give up fighting.

Liverpool, which has been in action off Libya since April, sailed close to Tripoli for the first time to help a stricken boat of refugees on Sunday.

The small Maltese-registered vessel had been damaged by hostile fire while leaving Tripoli port and her manoeuvrability was impaired.

The MoD’s chief spokesman Major General Nick Pope said: ‘HMS Liverpool passed a line to the vessel and towed her to open waters where she was able to proceed safely.

‘Liverpool alerted the Maltese authorities to the vessel’s condition, and then was able to return to her duties off the coast.’

Anti-Gaddafi fighters have seized control of much of Tripoli, although there were pockets of fighting still going on in the city yesterday.

Colonel Gaddafi was nowhere to be seen.

Defence secretary Liam Fox told The News: ‘There are a number of rumours but it is impossible to conclude where he is. We have a number of assets there trying to locate where he is. There are rumours he’s fled the country.

‘I’m assuming it might take some time before we know where he is.’

Dr Fox, who visited RAF Odiham in Hampshire yesterday, said the Royal Navy will continue to patrol Libyan territorial waters despite the Nato-backed breakthrough.

He said: ‘It’s clear the majority of Tripoli has fallen although there are still pockets of fighting.

‘The Royal Navy will continue to play our part in the arms embargo and we will continue to do so as long as Nato decides that’s necessary.’

Air strikes from HMS Ocean and shelling from HMS Liverpool, which have been a feature of the Libyan campaign in recent months, have ceased as a result of the rebels’ advances – but it is not known when UK forces will pull out of Libya, Dr Fox said.

He added: ‘We are effectively in an over-watch role now but we will still be maintaining our forces there and where there are threats posed from remnants of Gaddafi’s regime we will not fail to act.’

After chairing a National Security Council meeting yesterday, Mr Cameron called on Gaddafi to go.

He said: ‘Gaddafi must stop fighting, without conditions, and clearly show that he has given up any claim to control Libya.’

It is still unknown what will happen if, or when, Gaddafi gives up his grip on power.

Dr Fox said: ‘The Libyan people now find themselves at a crossroads and we hope they choose a path for a secure and stable future.’

Mr Cameron said: ‘There will undoubtedly be difficult days ahead. No transition is ever smooth or easy.’