ATHENS, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- Greek navy frigate "Salamis" braved adverse security conditions in Libya and rough seas to evacuate and safely carry to Greece 79 Chinese nationals among a total of 187 citizens on Saturday.
The evacuees arrived safe and sound at Piraeus port near Athens on Saturday morning after a 27-hour sail from Tripoli and were to continue their trip back home to China in coming days by flights.
The 117-meter-long MEKO 200HN class frigate which has 220 persons passenger capacity was dispatched to Libya on Thursday to evacuate Greek embassy employees as well as Greek and foreign citizens.
Chinese were the biggest national group on board “Salamis” in the successful rescue operation, along with 77 Greeks, 12 Cypriots, 10 Britons, seven Belgians, a Russian and an Albanian, according to a Greek Defense Ministry statement.
Greek Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said "the successful outcome of the mission promotes Armed Forces’ role to society and confirms Greece’s active role in the wider region."
The evacuees were warmly welcomed at Piraeus port by Greek officials, Chinese ambassador to Greece Zou Xiaoli and Chinese embassy personnel, as well as other foreign officials.
Zou expressed China’s gratitude to the Greek government and the captain and crew for the assistance offered to evacuate Chinese nationals from Libya once again, speaking to Greek officials and the press.
Meanwhile, evacuees raised banners which read “Thank you Hellas”, "Long live Sino-Greek friendship" and waved Chinese and Greek national flags.
“I am happy that you arrived here safe and sound. You can return to China smoothly very soon as most flights of yours have been confirmed. On behalf of the Chinese government, I hereby express my cordial solicitude to you,”Zou told the evacuees in a brief welcome ceremony at the port.
Chinese evacuees described to Xinhua an alarming security situation in Libya, expressing their deep appreciation for their rescue by Chinese and Greek authorities.
“We could hear the sound of firing and explosion when we board the frigate. The situation in Libya is becoming worse. I don't know what will happen if we do not leave,” evacuee Chen Zhonghao told Xinhua.
Clashes in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi between rival militias have left at least 214 people dead and 981 others wounded since July 13.
For the 31-year-old Zhang Zhibiao from China's ShenZhen region, it was the second time from him to evacuate from Libya. In 2011, he left that country by a charted plane when the situation deteriorated.
"This time the situation is worse as the airports have been destroyed and evacuating by land is very dangerous. Fortunately, with the help of the Chinese and Greek governments, we can leave Libya by sea which is the safest route so far," said Zhang.
The Chinese citizens from three Chinese companies, were treated well by navy officers during the long journey from Tripoli to Piraeus.
"We had good meals with bread and cheese. I felt very special as this was my first time travelling by a navy ship," said Zhai Hengfeng from a Chinese infrastructure company.
Ambassador Zou said senior Greek defense and foreign affairs officials called him personally on Wednesday, informing him about the naval mission and offering to take "as many Chinese citizens as possible" from Libya to Greece.
Shortly after arrival, the Chinese citizens were transferred by bus to a hotel near the capital Athens. According to a senior official from the Chinese embassy, eight evacuees have already left for China and all of them will fly to China by Monday.
This was not the first time that Greece assisted China in evacuating Chinese citizens from embattled zones.
In 1997 amidst unrest in Albania a Greek navy ship carried Chinese nationals to Greece. Greece also helped the evacuation of Chinese citizens from Lebanon in 2006 with the conflict between Isreal and Lebanon escalated.
In 2011, China evacuated 35,000 Chinese from the North African country, with 13,000 ferried via the Greek island of Crete from where they returned to China by chartered flights.
In their recent meetings, Greek and Chinese leaders vowed to further enhance their comprehensive strategic partnership with Greece, which is being reaffirmed by the new emergency operation.
In a meeting in July with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Greece is a friendly and reliable friend of China in the European Union, and that the two countries have enjoyed deep friendship as they showed mutual understanding and support on matters relating to each other's core interests and major concerns, and help each other in times of difficulty.
Chinese and Greek officials praised this large-scale evacuation operation several times in recent years as a strong sign of Greek people's humanitarian spirit and of the deepening friendship between the two countries and peoples.
"The cooperation between Greece and China will promote regional and world peace," ambassador Zou stressed to Greek officials.