Royal Navy ship takes Britons from Libya to Malta

The BBC's Rana Jawad says the ship is a last-minute option for those who haven't managed to leave the country yet

A Royal Navy ship helping Britons to leave Libya amid worsening violence in the country has arrived in Malta, according to the Foreign Office (FCO).

HMS Enterprise helped 110 people, the majority of whom were British. None are understood to be diplomats.

The FCO temporarily closed its embassy in the capital of Tripoli on Monday. It had urged Britons to leave the country.

It comes amid fighting between rival factions in Libya, which has killed hundreds of people in recent weeks.

'Food and shelter'

The Plymouth-based ship left the UK in June for an 18-month survey deployment and had been on operations in the Mediterranean.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed the Royal Navy operation had been launched following Foreign Office advice.

"I thank the crew of HMS Enterprise for their support and professionalism in carrying out this important task," he said.

About 110 people were registered to leave on board the ship including two Irish citizens and one German.

During the operation, it is understood HMS Enterprise moored just off Tripoli and a smaller vessel was dispatched to transport people from shore to deck.

HMS Enterprise commanding officer Mark Vartan said the crew had been "proud" to play its part in helping to move people to safety.

"My ship's company have adapted to the challenge superbly, making as much space as possible and providing essential food, shelter and security for the journey," he said.

Rob Luke, the UK's High Commissioner in Malta, tweeted his thanks to his officials who had "worked through the night" to help those arriving from Libya.

A petrol depot set ablaze in Tripoli A petrol depot was set on fire after fighting between rival groups near the airport in Tripoli

The ship's departure was not considered a rescue mission as there were still commercial means to leave Libya.

The country has been gripped by instability and a power struggle among rival groups since the overthrow of former leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Fighting between rival militias - one established by the outgoing parliament and one controlled by the defence ministry - has spread northwards in the capital in recent days.

More than 200 people have been killed in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi in the past two weeks.

'Very sad'

It is thought there are between 100 and 300 Britons still in Libya.

The British embassy in Tripoli suspended its operations on Monday, after which the remaining staff were due to leave. It is relocating to neighbouring Tunisia.

British ambassador to Libya Michael Aron has described the situation as "very sad" and said staff would return to the embassy "as soon as security allows".

Michael Aron in Tripoli on June 4 British ambassador Michael Aron said the decision to leave had been taken "reluctantly"

The Foreign Office has said a limited number of commercial flights are still leaving Libya but warned flight schedules could change without notice.

On Wednesday, British Airways suspended flights to and from Tripoli up to and including 5 August because of the security situation at the country's main international airport.

Land routes also remain open but the Foreign Office said "the security situation can change very quickly".

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Timeline: Libya after Gaddafi

There was chaos on Friday as thousands of people including foreign nationals tried to flee across the border into Tunisia, as Rana Jawad reports

February 2011: Arrest of human rights campaigner sparks protests

March-August 2011: Rebels backed by Nato air attacks capture large parts of Libya

October 2011: Col Gaddafi is captured and killed. The main opposition group, the National Transitional Council (NTC), declares Libya officially liberated

January 2012: Clashes erupt between former rebel forces in Benghazi. Following months see continuing instability as rival militias battle for power and resources in both east and west Libya

September 2012: US ambassador is killed when armed men storm US consulate in Benghazi

November 2012: New government led by liberal figure Ali Zeidan sworn in

May 2013: Government offices besieged by militiamen

August 2013: Rebels begin months-long blockade of oil terminals

October 2013: PM Ali Zeidan briefly abducted by militiamen

November 2013: Libyan army clashes with Islamist fighters

February 2014: Protests break out after Libyan parliament refuses to disband itself after its mandate expires

March 2014: PM Ali Zeidan is sacked by parliament

June 2014: New parliament elected. Due to hold first meeting this month

Full timeline

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Six days ago, the Foreign Office said Britons should leave Libya immediately because of growing instability and advised against all travel there.

On Friday, the Foreign Office repeated its advice for Britons to leave "due to the more intense and more widespread fighting in Tripoli, and greater instability throughout Libya".

Most western countries have now withdrawn diplomats from Libya.

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Libya after Gaddafi

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