Libya rescue: UK forces to continue mission

Media caption, Liam Fox: "Two Hercules aircraft have evacuated around 150 civilians"

Further rescue missions are planned to airlift an estimated 300 British nationals still stranded in Libyan desert camps.

Two RAF Hercules flew 150 oil workers, many of them British nationals, to the safety of Malta on Saturday.

Looters are known to operate in the territory south of Benghazi, controlled by opponents of leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Meanwhile, 53 Britons were among 100 on the last government-chartered flight out of Libya to Gatwick on Saturday.

The BBC's Europe editor Gavin Hewitt, who is in Malta, says the RAF flights on Saturday were into an area which was "relatively safe" because the landing strip had been secured by local militia, and by oil company security.

He says "there are much more complicated and difficult places where there are still British workers", and rescue plans for them are being worked out.

"The biggest fear is of landing in area that is not in under the control of one side or the other," he added.

Meanwhile the Hungarian government has organised a charter flight out of Tripoli International Airport later on Sunday and is willing to accept British nationals.

The Romanian government is also sending a plane to Tripoli later on Sunday, with availability for approximately 40 EU citizens, including those from the UK if there is space available.

More details are on the Foreign Office website and the British government said it will also be regularly updating on all options to depart Libya via Twitter.

The Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland is heading back to Benghazi to help with further evacuations.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has revised upwards its original estimate of the number of British oil workers still in the desert.

'No soldiers'

It is understood that many of their employers had not registered them with the embassy in Tripoli, which meant consular staff had been unaware of their whereabouts when the first protests against Col Gaddafi's regime broke out two weeks ago.

The FCO now estimates there could be between 280 and 380 British nationals still in the country - and is urging those who have already left to contact them on 0207 008 0000 to ensure they have been accounted for.

Before the operation got the final go-ahead, British diplomats were flown out of Tripoli to Malta.

The embassy has now been temporarily closed.

Media caption, Rescued oil worker Peter Dingle said he had to keep quiet about the British operation. Pictures courtesy MoD.

Peter Dingle, from Lancashire, was among those airlifted out.

He said: "Everything was being kept quiet. We couldn't send e-mails out to any people or anything like that because obviously the media would find out that the British military was coming."

Another evacuee, Nigel Bilton, said it was "a big relief" when the RAF landed, bringing to an end an ordeal at the hands of Libyan rebels.

"We locked ourselves in steel containers. I don't think they wanted to hurt anyone, they just wanted to steal as much as they possibly could.

But the site manager went out to confront them, and we thought they were going to shoot him. He had to hand over the keys to the vehicles."

Civil engineer Tony Hooks, from Stirling, added: "We were aware of the dangers and we're just glad to get out.

"There are still people in the desert, so I can't say too much. I can't say where I came from. The guys down there are still doing an excellent job to gather all the guys together and get them evacuated."

Of the rescuers, he said: "There was the crew. There were no soldiers as such. They were not carrying any weapons, to my knowledge."

Defence Secretary Liam Fox confirmed the Hercules flights on Saturday evening, once they had arrived in Malta, and gave detail of other evacuation efforts.

"HMS Cumberland is on her way back to Benghazi to evacuate any remaining entitled persons from there," he said.

"HMS York has arrived in Valletta to take on board stores so it can assist the evacuation effort if required. And a number of other military assets remain available to support the FCO-led efforts to return civilians from Libya," he said.

The Foreign Office said the Hercules passengers had been met by a team of consular officials and Red Cross staff in Valletta, where they would be helped before returning to Britain on a government-chartered plane on Sunday or Monday.

Much of Libya, especially the east, is now controlled by anti-Gaddafi forces but the Libyan leader, who is coming under increasing pressure from the international community over his crackdown against protesters, still controls Tripoli.

The capital is home to two million of the country's 6.5 million population.