HMS York brings aid to Libya as crisis deepens

HELPING HMS York pictured in Malta before she left for Libya yesterday
HELPING HMS York pictured in Malta before she left for Libya yesterday
The new commanding officer of HMS Collingwood, Captain Rob Vitali. Picture: Keith Woodland/MoD

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TONS of medical aid has arrived in Libya aboard HMS York as the Portsmouth-based destroyer arrived for the latest stage of the civilian evacuation from the crisis-hit country

York sailed into the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi late this morning in the third rescue sortie carried out by the Royal Navy since the unrest in the North African nation became critical.

She has now left Benghazi with around 60 people on board, including 10 Britons, and is heading to Malta.

It follows two successful evacuations by HMS Cumberland, which plucked more than 400 people to safety last week. The frigate, which is due to be decommissioned on her return to the UK, will remain off the Libyan coast as dictator Colonel Gaddafi refuses to stand down in the wake of the revolution against his 41-year regime.

An estimated 2,000 people have died in Libya since the uprising began last month and aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of refugees flood out of Libya across the borders of Tunisia and Egypt. Prime Minister David Cameron announced Britain has launched an operation to airlift 6,000 Egyptian refugees stranded on the Libyan-Tunisian border back to their home country.

He also wants to impose a no-fly zone over Libya as speculation mounts of military intervention from NATO forces. This has been met with a cold reception from some countries.

But Mr Cameron told MPs today: ‘We should put every available pressure on the Libyan regime.’

The US Navy is sending its large amphibious vessels USS Kearsarge and USS Ponce into international waters off Libya. Ships from the US sixth fleet based in Italy could also be on the way.

Since the Libyan crisis began, the coalition government has faced repeated criticism over last year’s decision to axe HMS Ark Royal and the Royal Navy’s Harrier jets, leaving Britain without a functioning aircraft carrier to enforce a no-fly zone.

But defence secretary Liam Fox insisted that such criticism was a ‘red herring’ because the base in Cyprus meant Britain could still operate RAF jets over Libya to enforce a no-fly zone if it was required.

He said: ‘There has been no need for us to have a carrier, there has been no need for us to use fast jets, but we have the ability to use them if required.’