BEIJING, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- By air, sea and land, and from China, Egypt, Tunisia, Greece and Malta, Beijing is carrying out an all-out effort to withdraw Chinese nationals out of Libya.
Under the instructions of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, the Chinese government has established a task force, headed by Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, to ensure a timely evacuation of all the stranded Chinese, including those from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
In this race against time, at stake is the safety of the lives and properties of the endangered compatriots in the volatile, faraway Northern African country.
The call is urgent, the action is swift, and a full-blown operation is already underway.
IN THE AIR
At a plenary meeting on Tuesday, the task force decided to dispatch all means of transport possible, including planes, ships and coaches, to the vicinity of Libya and prime them for entry and evacuation.
On Wednesday afternoon, a passenger plane chartered for the rescue operation departed from Beijing, carrying a cross-ministerial team of officials and some emergency relief supplies.
The Airbus A330-200 Air China flight would stop over at Athens before heading for Tripoli, and would return to Beijing on early Friday morning should nothing run awry, Song Zhiyong, vice president of China National Aviation Holding Company, told Xinhua on Wednesday.
On early Thursday morning, a second chartered Air China A330-200passenger plane joined in the venture and took off at Beijing Capital International Airport.
Air China managers acknowledged that the rescue flights would not be easy, due to the lack of flight experience in Libya, the tense situation on Libyan soil, and the undeveloped conditions of the destination airport.
The company said that it has formulated several contingency plans to guarantee the safety of rescue flights.
According to latest information from Chinese authorities, the first aircraft arrived in Tripoli at 8:07 a.m. Beijing time (0007 GMT) Thursday.
ON THE SEA
Miles below, two Greek passenger liners chartered by the Chinese embassy in Greece arrived at Libya's eastern port and second-largest city of Benghazi on Wednesday night.
With more than 4,000 Chinese evacuees on board, the two vessels, "Hellenic Spirit" and "Olympic Champion," have left Benghazi and are expected to arrive at the port of Heraklion in the southern Greek island of Crete Thursday afternoon, according to latest information from the Chinese embassy in Greece.
On the heels of the two vessels, a third charted ocean liner is on its way to Benghazi.
Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Malta told Xinhua that an Italian ocean liner it chartered is also heading for Libya, with a capacity of carrying over 2,000 people.
Adding to the rescue fleet are two cargo ships and several ferryboats operated by Chinese companies. They happened to be at nearby waters and thus was recruited for the operation, said the Chinese Ministry of Transport.
THROUGH THE LAND
Rescue efforts by land are also in place, as the Chinese embassies in Egypt and Tunisia have sent dozens of coaches to Libyan borders to transfer fleeing Chinese nationals.
The two diplomatic missions said that they have made comprehensive arrangements to ensure that all those intending to enter Egypt and Tunisia can get help with entry procedures and will have convenient access to all basic supplies.
With the assistance of Chinese diplomats in Egypt, 83 Chinese nationals working at a Libyan university construction site some 500 km away from Benghazi were evacuated to Egypt on Tuesday, after their workplace was repeatedly ransacked by unidentified gunmen.
One day later, they departed from the northern Egyptian port of Alexandria for China in two commercial flights, respectively bound for Beijing and Shanghai.
"We are so lucky as one of the earliest groups evacuated from Libya," Shi Zhifei, one of the rescued workers, told Xinhua, adding that the Chinese embassy took good care of them.
Among the 83 workers, 43 arrived in Beijing Thursday morning and the rest is due to land in Shanghai at around 2 p.m. local time Thursday.
HELP FROM OTHERS
Helping hands also come from other countries that have been trying to retrieve their respective nationals from Libya.
On Wednesday, 10 Chinese workers arrived at Sofia in a flight the Bulgarian government sent to Libya to evacuate its citizens, while the Chinese embassy in Egypt helped two foreigners working for Chinese companies cross the border to safety.
On the same day, with the assistance of the Chinese embassy in Bulgaria, the 10 Chinese evacuees contacted their families before taking a Russian flight back to China.
"Thank the homeland! Thank the embassy!" one of them chanted excitedly to Xinhua when passing the border control at the airport.