Operation Safe Homecoming was an operation launched by India to evacuate its nationals, who were fleeing from the Libyan civil war. It was a combination of an air and sea-bridge which was to be conducted by the Indian Navy and Air India. The last time the Indian government had launched such an evacuation was during the 2006 Lebanon War when the Indian Navy and Air India were used under Operation Sukoon. Prior to this, India had evacuated 111,711 of its nationals after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The Libyan civil war began as a series of protests and confrontations occurring in the North African state of Libya against the government and its leader Muammar Gaddafi. The social unrest began on 15 February 2011 and has since become a civil war that continued until 23 October 2011. Inspiration for the unrest is attributed to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, connecting it with the wider Arab Spring. According to Richard Engel, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent, who entered Libya and had reached the city of Tobruk on 22 February, "the protest movement is no longer a protest movement, it's a war. It's open revolt." On 22 February, The Economist described the events as an "uprising that is trying to reclaim Libya from the world's longest-ruling autocrat." Gaddafi blamed the uprising on al-Qaeda and "drugged kids".
There were 18,000 Indian nationals working in Libya who were trapped because of the unrest. Evacuation appeared to be difficult due to "chaos" at the central airport in Tripoli as well as a "destroyed" runway at Benina International Airport and the temporary closure of all Libyan ports. Consequently, many international flights, including those of British Airways, were cancelled, although others appeared to operate. Further reports indicate that Libyan harbours in many cities were closed.
India therefore ordered three Indian Navy ships, two destroyers the INS Mysore, and INS Aditya along with its largest amphibious vessel, INS Jalashwa to sail from Mumbai on 26 February to Libya. It also chartered the 1,200-seater MV Scotia Prince and the 1,600 seater La Superba, based in Sicily to sail to Libya as soon as port preparations were completed. The MV Scotia Prince set sail from Port Said on 26 February and reached Benghazi on 28 February. The navy and charter ships evacuated passengers from Tripoli and Benghazi to Alexandria, Egypt, from there Air India aircraft flew the passengers to India. The navy ships reached the Libya coast by 8 March 2011, but they were not used since much of the evacuation had already been carried out by chartered ships and aircraft. The Indian Government announced that evacuation will not cost anything to its nationals.
After Libyan authorities gave India permission to land in Tripoli, two Air India aircraft, a Boeing 747 and an Airbus 330, flew 500 passengers directly to New Delhi and Mumbai from Tripoli. Additional landing rights were requested for operating flights from Sabha, where about 1,000 of its nationals were awaiting evacuation. Additionally India was given permission to land its aircraft at Sirte and Sabha where there were 2,000 Indians awaiting evacuation. Additionally, on 2 March, the Indian Government ordered all private airlines to fly one flight each to Libya, two airlines Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines started flying from 3 March, they flew Indian nationals ferried to Malta from the airport at Luqa. On 3 March, an Il-76 aircraft of the Indian Air Force was pressed into service to fly out the Indians to Cairo from Sirte. Several Indian nationals were crossing Libya into neighbouring countries via the land route. Some of them reached Salloum, Egypt from Tobruk and were met at the border by Indian embassy officials who arranged their onward journey to Mumbai on an international airline. Similarly 88 nationals crossed over via Ras Ajdir into Tunisia.
On 5 March 2011, the Indian government announced that the evacuation would be completed by 10 March. After the evacuation of more than 15,000 of its nationals, the operation wened on 11 March. About 3,000 of its nationals decided to stay in Libya.
- Operation Sukoon, Indian operation to evacuate its nationals from Lebanon in 2006
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