A hundred and ninety-eight South Koreans fled the Libyan capital of Tripoli Friday on board a plane chartered by the Seoul government, with hundreds more expected to evacuate the violence-torn country on two additional flights later in the day.
The Egypt Airlines Airbus 330 flight took off from Tripoli at 15:45 p.m. Friday Korean time and was to arrive in Cairo about three hours later.
The chartered plane was previously scheduled to arrive in Tripoli on Thursday, but was delayed due to congestion and flight control problems at the Libyan airport, Seoul's foreign ministry said.
A Korean Air flight which can carry up to 330 passengers was also scheduled to land in Tripoli later in the day to bring South Koreans home.
The Seoul government agreed with Egypt Airlines to send another chartered flight Friday to Surte in central Libya where at least 68 South Koreans were staying, according to the ministry.
The 300-seat plane bound for Surte was scheduled to leave Cairo later in the day.
The number of South Koreans in Libya will be reduced from 1,248 to 582 once all the evacations take place Friday as planned, according to the ministry.
Several South Korean companies said their staff will remain to protect their facilities.
The Korean Air B747 flight received permission for landing in Tripoli at 6 p.m. Friday local time (1 a.m. Saturday Korean time), but the arrival could be delayed as the airport is jammed with a rush of incoming flights from around the world, the ministry said.
The plane is scheduled to arrive in Seoul on Saturday evening via Rome.
Those in northeastern and southwestern Libya, mostly employees of South Korean construction companies, are traveling overland to bordering Egypt or Tunisia as they are far away from airports.
Seventy-seven South Koreans were to evacuate by land to Tunisia Friday, a day after 56 people moved to Egypt.
Road trips are considered dangerous, however, as there is a risk of getting mobbed and the roads connecting Libya's major cities are often blocked.
About 50 South Koreans are believed to have boarded a Turkish passenger ship that left the eastern port city of Benghazi Thursday evening.
The Seoul government also dispatched a warship, which had been on anti-piracy operations in waters near Somalia, to Libya to evacuate South Koreans in case other means of transportation are limited.
The 4,500-ton destroyer Choi Young left the Gulf of Aden Thursday afternoon and is expected to arrive at a port in northern Libya in the first week of March after maneuvering through the Suez Canal, the defense ministry said.
The Choi Young can carry up to 1,000 people including crew members and is armed with guided missiles, torpedoes and helicopters.
"The evacuees will be transported by plane first and the Choi Young will be used if remaining South Koreans have difficulties moving out of Libya," a defense ministry official said.
"The destroyer can turn back (to the Gulf of Aden) if no more evacuation is necessary."
It is the first time Seoul is sending a naval ship for a civilian evacuation mission.
The Choi Young led the rescue operation of the hijacked South Korean cargo ship Samho Jewelry last month off the Omani coast.
-The Korea Herald/Asia News Network